Category Archives: Estate Planning Blog

3 Questions to Consider When Selecting Beneficiaries for a Life Insurance Policy

Selecting a beneficiary for your life insurance policy sounds pretty straightforward. You’re just deciding who will receive the policy’s proceeds when you die, right?

But as with most things in life, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Keep in mind that naming someone as your life insurance beneficiary really has nothing to do with you: It should be based on how the funds will affect the beneficiary’s life once you’re no longer here.

It’s very likely that if you’ve purchased life insurance, you did so to make someone’s life better or easier in some way after your death. But unless you consider all the unique circumstances involved with your choice, you might actually end up creating additional problems for the people you love.

Given the potential complexities involved, here are a few important questions you should ask yourself when choosing your life insurance beneficiary:

1. What are you intending to accomplish?

The first thing to consider is the “real” reason you’re buying life insurance. On the surface, the reason may simply be because it’s the responsible thing for adults to do. But I recommend you dig deeper to discover what you ultimately intend to accomplish with your life insurance.

Are you married and looking to replace your income for your spouse and kids after death? Are you single without kids and just trying to cover the costs of your funeral? Are you leaving behind money for your grandkids’ college funds? Are you intending to make sure your business continues after you’re gone? Or perhaps your life insurance is in place to cover a future estate-tax burden?

The real reason you’re investing in life insurance is something only you can answer. The answer is critical, because it is what determines how much and what kind of life insurance you should have in the first place. And by first clearly understanding what you’re actually intending to accomplish with the policy, you’ll be in a much better position to make your ultimate decision—who to select as beneficiary.

2. What are your beneficiary options?

Your insurance company will ask you to name a primary beneficiary—your top choice to get the insurance money at the time of your death. If you fail to name a beneficiary, the insurance company will distribute the proceeds to your estate upon your death. If your estate is the beneficiary of your life insurance, that means a probate court judge will direct where your insurance money goes at the completion of the probate process.

And this process can tie your life insurance proceeds up in court for months or even years. To keep this from happening to your loved ones, be sure to name—at the very least—one primary beneficiary.

In case your primary beneficiary dies before you, you should also name at least one contingent (alternate) beneficiary. For maximum protection, you should probably name more than one contingent beneficiary in case both your primary and secondary choices have died before you. Yet, even these seemingly straightforward choices are often more complicated than they appear due to the options available.

For example, you can name multiple primary beneficiaries, like your children, and have the proceeds divided among them in whatever way you wish. What’s more, the beneficiary doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. You can name a charity, nonprofit, or business as the primary (or contingent) beneficiary.

It’s important to note that if you name a minor child as a primary or contingent beneficiary (and he or she ends up receiving the policy proceeds), a legal guardian must be appointed to manage the funds until the child comes of age. This can lead to numerous complications, so you should definitely consult with an experienced Family Law attorney like us if you’re considering this option.

3. Does your state have community-property laws?

If you’re married, you’ll likely choose your spouse as the primary beneficiary anyway. But what if you want to choose a close friend, your favorite charity, or simply the person you think needs the money most.

In California, community-property laws dictate that your spouse is entitled to the policy proceeds and will have to sign a form waiving his or her rights to the insurance money if you want to name someone else as beneficiary. Sometimes it makes sense to name your trust as the primary beneficiary instead of your spouse. If you go that route, you’ll definitely want to talk to a trusted estate planning attorney before you sign anything because of the extra complications.

The team at my firm doesn’t just draft documents; we guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to plan for yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today if you have any questions about life insurance or other estate planning options.

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

Understand What’s At Stake Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee

Being asked by a family member or close friend to serve as trustee for their trust upon their death can be an incredible honor. At the same time, however, serving as a trustee can be a massive responsibility—and the role is not for everyone.

In fact, depending on the type of trust, the assets held by the trust, the specific terms of the trust, and the beneficiaries named, the job can require you to fulfill a wide range of complex (and potentially unpleasant) duties over the course of many years. What’s more, trustees are legally required to properly execute those duties or face liability.

Given this, agreeing to serve as trustee is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. Indeed, sometimes the best thing you can do for everyone involved is to politely decline the job. Remember, you don’t have to take it. On the other hand, you might enjoy the opportunity to be a trustee, so long as you understand what it entails.

It’s best to make your decision about serving as trustee with eyes wide open. Here’s a brief look at what the job will likely entail, along with some situations where you might want to seriously think twice before agreeing.

What trustees do
As mentioned earlier, a trustee’s duties can vary tremendously depending on the size of the estate, the type of trust, and the trust’s specific instructions. That said, every trust comes with a few core requirements, primarily revolving around accounting for, managing, and distributing the trust’s assets to its named beneficiaries.

Regardless of the type of trust or the assets it holds, some of a trustee’s key responsibilities include:

  • Identifying and protecting the trust assets
  • Managing the trust assets for the term specified and distributing them properly
  • Filing income and estate taxes for the trust
  • Communicating regularly with beneficiaries
  • Being scrupulously honest, highly organized, and keeping detailed records
  • Closing the trust when the trust terms specify

Ultimately, trustees have a fiduciary duty to properly manage the trust in the best interest of all the trust beneficiaries. Consult with us for more in-depth details regarding the duties and responsibilities a specific trust will require of you as trustee.

Signs the trustee role might be a bad fit
Given the sense of loyalty and filial responsibility that’s often involved, it might feel difficult to turn the trustee role down. But for several reasons, saying “no thanks” can sometimes be the best decision, not only for you, but for all parties involved.

Of course, this is an entirely personal decision and one you’ll ultimately have to make for yourself after considering all the factors. That said, here are a few red flags that can signal the role might be better fulfilled by someone other than you:

  • Your job, family, and/or health situation is such that you won’t be able to give the job the time and attention it deserves. Some trusts can require far more work than others, and if the role would seriously impede your own life, you might consider declining.
  • You don’t get along with the beneficiaries. If there are underlying conflicts or bad blood with the people you’ll be required to serve, this could make the job incredibly difficult and unpleasant for everyone.
  • The trust’s terms are vague and/or unclear, leaving you in the position to make difficult decisions you don’t feel qualified to make. Such grey areas are especially troublesome when it comes to distributing trust assets to young adult beneficiaries, who might not be the most responsible with their spending and/or lifestyle.
  • It’s not clear exactly what assets the trust creator (grantor) owned, and/or the estate is highly unorganized. Tracking down and managing unorganized and/or poorly funded assets can be a massive undertaking—and a potential liability.
  • Lawsuits are likely or already underway. As trustee, it’s your duty to defend the trust against lawsuits, and just doing this can be a huge expenditure of your time and energy. What’s more, if a lawsuit against the trust is successful, it could seriously reduce the trust’s value, making your job infinitely more challenging.

We can help you decide
Given the serious nature of a trustee’s responsibilities, you can meet with us for help deciding whether to accept the job. We can offer a clear, unbiased assessment of what will be required of you based on the specific trust’s terms, assets, and beneficiaries.

And if you do decide to accept the trustee role, we can guide you step-by-step through the entire process, ensuring you effectively fulfill all of the grantor’s wishes with minimal risk. Serving as trustee can be a lot of work, but if you go into the job with eyes wide open and have the proper guidance, it can be an immensely rewarding experience, too.

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

Luke Perry’s Death Demonstrates the Importance of Planning for Incapacity

In late February, Luke Perry, who became famous starring in the 1990s TV series Beverly Hills 90210, suffered a massive stroke at age 52. He was hospitalized under heavy sedation, and five days later, when it became clear he wouldn’t recover, his family decided to remove life support. Perry died on March 4th, 2019 surrounded by his children, fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings, and others.

Whether or not you were a Luke Perry fan, it’s hard not to be saddened when someone so young and seemingly healthy passes away suddenly. In these moments, the fragile impermanence of life becomes obvious. It’s life’s way of reminding us that incapacity and death can strike at any time, no matter who we are.

Reminders of the fleeting nature of life can motivate us to savor life now AND act to protect the ones we love through proper estate planning. And while we don’t yet know exactly what levels of planning Perry had in place, it appears he was thoughtful and responsible enough to have at least covered the basics.

Planning for incapacity and death
Perry was reportedly inspired to create his own estate plan following a health scare. In 2015, after discovering he had precancerous growths during a colonoscopy, Perry created a will, leaving everything to his two children. But since Perry was worth an estimated $10 million, divorced with kids from the first marriage, and about to be married again, creating a will was a start but not nearly enough.

Wills only apply to the distribution of assets following death, and even then, your will must go through the court process known as probate for your assets to be distributed. Because a will only comes into play upon your death, if you’re ever incapacitated by accident or illness as Perry was, it offers neither you nor your family any protections.

The power over medical decisions
During the time he was incapacitated, someone was called upon to make crucial medical decisions for Perry’s welfare, while his family was summoned to his side. To this end, it’s likely Perry designated someone to serve as his medical decision-maker by granting them medical power of attorney. He may have also created a living will, which would provide specific instructions to this individual regarding how to make these medical decisions.

Granting medical powers of attorney gives the person you name the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. The document that does this is known as an advance healthcare directive, and it’s an absolute must-have for every adult over age 18.

Without medical powers of attorney, if any of Perry’s family were in disagreement over how his medical care should be handled, the family may have needed a court order to terminate life support. This could have needlessly prolonged the family’s suffering and made his death even more public, costly, and traumatic for those he left behind. 

Learn from Perry’s example
Whether you already have a basic plan in place or nothing at all, you owe it to your loved ones to get educated about the specifics necessary to keep your family out of court and out conflict if something happens to you.

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

Could an IRA Trust Benefit Your Family?

Upon death, if you have individual retirement accounts (IRAs), they will pass directly to the people you named on your beneficiary designation form. And unless you take extra steps, the named beneficiary can do whatever he or she wants with the account’s funds once you’re gone.

For several reasons, you might not want your heirs to receive your retirement savings all at once. One way to prevent this is to designate your IRA into a trust.

But you can’t just use any trust to hold an IRA; you’ll need to set up a special type of revocable trust specifically designed to act as the beneficiary of your IRA upon your death. Such a trust is referred to by different names but for this article, I’m simply going to call it an IRA Trust.

IRA Trusts offer a number of valuable benefits to both you and your beneficiaries. If you have significant assets invested through one or more IRA accounts, you might want to consider the following advantages of adding an IRA Trust to your estate plan.

1. Protection from creditors, lawsuits, & divorce
Assets passed through an IRA Trust are shielded from your beneficiary’s creditors (which includes lawsuit judgements) if those assets remain in the trust.IRA Trusts are also useful in protecting assets from the possible remarriage and divorce of a surviving spouse as well as potential future divorces of your children.

2. Protection from the beneficiary’s own bad decisions
In addition, an IRA Trust can also help protect the beneficiary from his or her own poor money-management skills and spending habits. When you create an IRA Trust, you can restrict when the money is distributed as well as how it is to be spent. For example, you might stipulate that the beneficiary can only access the funds at a certain age or upon the completion of college. Or you might stipulate that the assets can only be used for healthcare needs or a home purchase. You can get as creative as you want with the trust’s terms.

3. Tax savings
One of the primary benefits of traditional IRAs is that they offer a period of tax-deferred growth, or tax-free growth in the case of a Roth IRA. A properly drafted IRA Trust can ensure the IRA funds are not all withdrawn at once and the required minimum distributions (RMDs) are stretched out over the beneficiary’s lifetime. Depending on the age of the beneficiary, this gives the IRA years—potentially even decades—of additional tax-deferred or tax-free growth.

4. Minors
If you want to name a minor child as the beneficiary of your IRA, they can’t inherit the account until they reach the age of majority. So, without a trust, you’ll have to name a guardian or conservator to manage the IRA until the child comes of age. With an IRA Trust, however, you name a trustee to handle the IRA management until the child comes of age. At that point, the IRA Trust’s terms can stipulate how and when the funds are distributed. Or the terms can even ensure the funds are held for the lifetime of your beneficiary, to be invested by your beneficiary through the trust.

Find out if an IRA Trust is right for you
While IRA Trusts can have major benefits, they’re not the best option for everyone. We can look at your situation and goals to help you determine if an IRA Trust is the most suitable option for passing on your retirement savings to benefit your family.

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

Overlooking This Basic Part of Your Estate Plan Can Be Tragic

The recent death of the CEO of QuadrigaCX, a major cryptocurrency exchange in Canada, demonstrates a basic, yet often-overlooked, tenet of effective estate planning:

In the event of your incapacity or death, if your heirs don’t know how to find or access your assets, those assets are as good as gone.

In the case of QuadrigaCX’s owner Gerald Cotten, the lost assets were purportedly worth $145 million, representing the vast majority of the company’s crypto holdings.

The hefty sum effectively vanished after Cotten died without leaving instructions for how to access the digital currency’s security passcodes. The crypto holdings were owned by some 115,000 clients, who used the exchange to buy and store their digital coins.

An untimely death
According to an affidavit filed in a Canadian court, Cotten, age 30, died suddenly of complications related to Crohn’s disease while traveling in India during December 2018. In January 2019, QuardigaCX filed for bankruptcy to protect itself from creditors, including all the customers with crypto stored in the company’s electronic vault.

According to Cotten’s widow, Jennifer Roberston, following multiple searches, she has been unable to find the passwords that will provide access to the company’s crypto holdings. The lesson is clear:

From cryptocurrency to safety deposit boxes and everything in between, your family must know how to find and access every asset you own, otherwise it could be lost forever.

In fact, there’s a total of more than $58 billion of unclaimed assets across the country held by the State Departments of Unclaimed Property. Much of that massive sum got there because someone died and their family didn’t know they owned the asset.

Incomplete estate planning
Another puzzling fact is that upon first glance, Cotten was diligent in his estate planning. Indeed, Cotten named Roberston as his estate’s executor and left her instructions for the complete distribution of his assets, including a private jet and multiple properties in Canada.

He even left behind $100,000 for the care of his two dogs—yet he managed to forget to include the passcodes that would unlock his company’s vast crypto assets. I believe that most people holding crypto assets haven’t taken the proper steps to ensure their heirs will know how to access these assets upon their incapacity or death.

Easily avoidable
What makes this loss so tragic is that it could have been so easily avoided. Whether your estate is valued in millions or thousands, your plan must include a comprehensive inventory of all your assets. And as Cotten’s case shows, this inventory must also include detailed instructions for how your heirs can find and access every asset.

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

Reclaim Your Role as Your Child’s Primary Influence—Part 2

Last week, I discussed how a lack of intimacy in the parent-child relationship has led kids to bond more intensely with their peers. Here, I’ll look at the devastating effects these peer-centered relationships can have, and how parents can reclaim their role as the chief-orienting influence in their children’s lives.

The crisis of the young
For evidence of just how unhealthy it can be when a child’s relationship with his or her peers matters more than the one they have with their parents, Maté points to the dramatic rise in violence, suicide, and mass shootings among today’s youth.

Maté found that in the vast majority of childhood suicides, the key trigger was how the children were treated by their peers, not their parents. When kids consider acceptance from their peers as their primary source of fulfillment, rejection and bullying can be utterly Earth-shattering.

“The more peers matter,” says Maté, “the more children are devastated by the insensitive relating of their peers, by failing to fit in, by perceived rejection or ostracization.”

The missing element
Outside of the obvious reasons why peers make terrible parenting substitutes, the crucial element missing from peer relationships is unconditional love.

Unconditional love is the most potent force in the parent-child bond, laying the foundation for the relationship’s strength, intimacy, and influence. Without unconditional love, the parenting relationship becomes no different than any other.

Maté notes that some of today’s common disciplinary techniques can unintentionally signal to the child that parental love is only available if certain conditions are met. As an example, Maté explains how putting a child who’s throwing a tantrum into timeout can make it feel like the parent’s attention and love are merely conditional.

“Timeout withdraws your relationship from the child,” says Maté. “They learn they’re only acceptable to you if they please you. The relationship is seen as unstable and unreliable because it’s showing them you’re not available for them when they’re most upset.”

Maté says that any behavior or action by the parent that threatens to undermine the unconditional nature of the parent-child relationship can be harmful. Without the underlying trust that their parents will be there for them no matter what, a children’s primary source of safety and trust becomes a source of insecurity.

Reclaim your influence
“Our challenge as parents is to provide an invitation that’s too desirable to turn down, a loving acceptance that no peer can provide,” says Maté.

“A real relationship with kids doesn’t depend on words; it depends on the capacity to be with them,” says Maté. “Welcome their presence with your body language and energy. Express delight in the child’s very being.” And your most challenging job as a parent is to do this even when they are pushing your every button, as all kids inevitably do.

No matter how your children are behaving, consider a way to show them that they’re loved and accepted unconditionally. This may go against everything you learned from your parents but consider doing it anyway. And if you find this difficult, take Mate’s advice and think back about what you would’ve really wanted from your own parents in such a situation.

“The ultimate gift is to make a child feel invited to exist in your presence exactly as he or she is at the moment,” says Maté. “Children must know they’re wanted, special, valued, appreciated, and enjoyed. For children to fully receive this invitation, it needs to be genuine and unconditional.”

When children get this level of acceptance, they naturally desire to become closer with whomever is offering it. Rather than fearing or being threatened by their parents, children want to be with them. They want to follow them.

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

Reclaim Your Role as Your Child’s Primary Influence—Part 1

If you haven’t heard of Dr. Gabor Maté, I’d like to introduce you. Maté combines the latest scientific research with his own 20 years of experience as a family physician to empower parents to earn back their children’s love and loyalty if that connection has eroded.

In numerous presentations, interviews, and the book Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, Maté explains the causes of this disconnect and describes how parents can reclaim their role as their children’s primary mentors and role models.

Maté posits that the main reason for children’s detachment is due to a growing lack of intimacy in the parent-child relationship. The foundation for parenting is centered around what developmental psychologists call an attachment relationship. An attachment relationship is based on children’s innate desire to connect with and belong to their parents.

This attachment forms the entire context for child rearing, and even the best parenting skills in the world can’t compensate for a lack of such a connection.

“The secret of parenting is not in what a parent does, but rather who the parent is to a child,” says Maté. “When a child seeks contact and closeness with us, we become empowered as a nurturer, a comforter, a guide, a model, a teacher, or a coach.” 

A relational, not a behavioral issue
As long as the child desires to stay attached—emotionally connected and close—a deep sense of psychological intimacy will naturally arise. Above all else, this bond sets the stage for the parent to be the primary source of influence over the child’s identity, values, and personality.

“People think parenting comes from their responsibility, strength, and wisdom, but it doesn’t come from that,” says Maté. “It comes from the desire of the child to belong to you.”

Children who lack this connection with their parents or primary caregivers become extremely difficult to raise and even teach. Given this, Maté stresses the fundamental goal for parents is to ensure that their children want to connect and have a close relationship with them. This does not mean just giving your children whatever they want, but instead giving them what they likely need most—more time and connection with you.

“The starting point and primary goal in all of our connections with children ought to be the relationship itself, not conduct or behavior,” notes Maté.

Kids raising kids
Children will always try to distance themselves from their parents as a natural way of exerting their independence, and parents have traditionally remained their primary source of influence. What’s changed, according to Maté, is that in recent decades, a mix of social, economic, and cultural changes have seriously eroded parents’ ability to remain the chief-orienting influence in their children’s lives.

“Children’s attachments to parents are no longer getting the support required from culture and society,” says Maté. “It’s not a lack of love or parenting know-how, but the erosion of the attachment context that makes our parenting ineffective.”

For a variety of reasons, often centered around economics, many parents are no longer able to provide the level of attention and intimacy needed for the relationship with their kids to remain healthy and strong. And because children have a deep-seated psychological need for such attachment, they seek out another source to fill this void.

“They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from us,” says Maté. “Instead, children are being brought up by other immature children who cannot possibly guide them to maturity.”

Dire consequences
Maté notes that it’s perfectly normal and healthy for children to have close relationships with their peers. The problem arises when these relationships supersede the ones they have with their parents.

For many children today, peers have replaced parents as the most influential force in creating the core of their personalities. When children look to other children to serve as their role models and mentors, this can have dramatic effects on their psychological development. And as we’ll see in part two, in the worst cases, can destroy the legacy parents want to build and leave for their children.

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

Use Estate Planning to Ensure Your Family Isn’t Stuck Paying For Your Funeral

With the cost of a funeral averaging $7,000 and steadily increasing each year, every estate plan should include enough money to cover this final expense. Yet it isn’t enough to simply set aside money in your will.

Your family won’t be able to access money left in a will until your estate goes through probate, which can last years. Since most funeral providers require full payment upfront, this means your family will likely have to cover your funeral costs out of pocket, unless you take proper action now.

If you want to avoid burdening your family with this hefty bill, you should use planning strategies that do not require probate. Here are a few options:

Insurance
You can purchase a new life insurance policy or add extra coverage to your existing policy to cover funeral expenses. The policy will pay out to the named beneficiary as soon as your death certificate is available. But you’ll likely have to undergo a medical exam and may be disqualified or face costly premiums if you’re older and/or have health issues.

There is also burial insurance specifically designed to cover funeral expenses. Also known “final expense,” “memorial,” and “preneed” insurance, such policies do not require a medical exam. However, you’ll often pay far more in premiums than what the policy actually pays out.

Because of the sky-high premiums and the fact such policies are sold mostly to the poor and uneducated, consumer advocate groups like the Consumer Federation of America consider burial insurance a bad idea and even predatory in some cases.

Prepaid funeral plans
Manyfuneral homes let you pay for your funeral services in advance, either in a single lump sum or through installments. Also known as pre-need plans, the funeral provider typically puts your money in a trust that pays out upon your death, or buys a burial insurance policy, with itself as the beneficiary.

While such prepaid plans may seem like a convenient way to cover your funeral expenses, these plans can have serious drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, if the funeral provider buys burial insurance, you’re likely to see massive premiums compared to what the plan actually pays out. And if they use a trust, the plan might not cover the full cost of the funeral, leaving your family on the hook for the difference.

In fact, these packages are considered so risky, the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), a nonprofit industry watchdog group, advises against purchasing such plans. The only instance where prepaid plans are a good idea, according to the FCA, is if you are facing a Medicaid spend down before going into a nursing home. This is because prepaid funeral plans funded through irrevocable trusts are not considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes.

Payable-on-death accounts
Many banks offer payable-on-death (POD) accounts which can be used to fund your funeral expenses. The account’s named beneficiary can only access the money upon your death, but you can deposit or withdraw money at any time.

A POD does not go through probate, so the beneficiary can access the money once your death certificate is issued. POD accounts are FDIC-insured, but such accounts are treated as countable assets by Medicaid, and the interest is subject to income tax.

Another option is to simply open a joint savings account with the person handling your funeral expenses and give them rights of survivorship. However, this gives the person access to your money while you’re alive too, and it puts the account at risk from their future creditors.

Living trusts
A customized living trust allows you to control the funds until your death and name a successor trustee, who is legally bound to use the trust funds to pay for your funeral expenses exactly as the trust terms stipulate.

With a living trust, you can change the terms at any time and even dissolve the trust if you need the money for other purposes. Alternatively, if you need to qualify for Medicaid, an irrevocable trust helps ensure you stay compliant with all of Medicaid’s requirements.

Don’t needlessly burden your family
To help decide which option is best suited for your particular situation, consult with your trusted legal advisor.

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

4 Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples—Part 2

In the first part of this series, I discussed the first two estate planning tools all unmarried couples should have in place. Here, we’ll look at the final two must-have planning tools. Read Part 1 HERE.

Most people tend to view estate planning as something only married couples need to worry about. However, estate planning can be even more critical for those in committed relationships who are unmarried.

Last week, I discussed wills, trusts, and durable power of attorney. Here, we’ll look at two more must-have estate planning tools, both of which are designed to protect your choices about the type of medical treatment you’d want if tragedy should strike.

3. Medical power of attorney
In addition to naming someone to manage your finances in the event of your incapacity, you also need to name someone who can make health-care decisions for you. If you want your partner to have any say in how your health care is handled during your incapacity, you should name your partner as medical power of attorney.

This gives your partner the ability to make health-care decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make them for yourself. This is particularly important if you’re unmarried, seeing that your family could leave your partner totally out of the medical decision-making process, and even deny him or her the right to visit you in the hospital.

Don’t forget to provide your partner with a HIPAA authorization, too, so he or she will have access to your medical records to make educated decisions about your care.

4. Living will
While medical power of attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a living will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. If you want your partner to have control over how your end-of-life care is managed, you should name them as your agent in a living will.

A living will explains how you’d like important medical decisions made, including if and when you want life support removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you.

Without a valid living will, doctors will most likely rely entirely on the decisions of your family or the named medical power of attorney holder when determining what course of treatment to pursue. Without a living will, those choices may not be the choices you—or your partner—would want.

We can help
If you’re involved in a committed relationship—married or not—or you just want to make sure that the people you choose are making your most important life-and-death decisions, we can support you in getting these essential estate planning tools in place.

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

4 Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples—Part 1

Estate planning is often considered something you only need to worry about once you get married. But the reality is every adult, regardless of age, income level, or marital status, needs to have some fundamental planning strategies in place if you want to keep the people you love out of court and out of conflict.

In fact, estate planning can be even more critical for unmarried couples. Even if you’ve been together for decades and act just like a married couple, you likely aren’t viewed as one in the eyes of the law. And in the event one of you becomes incapacitated or when one of you dies, not having any planning in place can have disastrous consequences.

If you’re in a committed relationship and have yet to get—or even have no plans to get—married, the following estate planning documents are an absolute must:

1. Wills and trusts
If you’re unmarried and die without planning, the assets you leave behind will be distributed according to California’s intestacy laws to your family members. These laws provide NO protection for your unmarried partner. Given this, if you want your partner to receive any of your assets upon your death, you need to—at the very least—create a will.

However, a will is not always the best option. First and foremost, wills do not operate in the event of incapacity. Moreover, a will requires probate, a court process that can take quite some time to navigate. And finally, assets passed through a will go outright to your partner, with no protection from creditors or lawsuits. To protect those assets for your partner, you’ll need a different planning strategy.

A better option may be to place the assets you want your partner to inherit in a living trust. First off, trusts can be used to transfer assets in the event of your incapacity, not just upon your death. Trusts also do not have to go through probate, saving your partner precious time and money.

What’s more, leaving your assets in a continued trust that your partner could control would ensure the assets are protected from creditors, future relationships, and/or unexpected lawsuits.

2. Durable power of attorney

When it comes to estate planning, most people focus only on what happens when they die. However, it’s just as important—if not even more so—to plan for your potential incapacity due to an accident or illness.

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. And this person could be a family member who doesn’t care for or want to support your partner, or it could be a professional guardian who will charge hefty fees, possibly draining your estate.

Since it’s unlikely that your unmarried partner will be the court’s first choice, if you want your partner (or even a friend)  to manage your finances in the event you become incapacitated, you would grant your partner (or friend) a durable power of attorney.

Durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that will give your partner immediate authority to manage your financial matters in the event of your incapacity. He or she will have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting government benefits, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Next week, I’ll continue with part two in this series on must-have estate planning strategies for unmarried couples.

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