Estate planning is not merely a legal necessity, but a shield to safeguard yourself, your family, and your financial achievements, irrespective of their magnitude. Despite its crucial role, a disheartening number of individuals overlook the value of estate planning. Whether it's about formulating a new estate plan or refining an existing one, procrastination can be a risky game. Below is an insight into some unsettling statistics regarding estate planning among Americans, emphasizing the urgency to address this issue to prevent becoming a part of these grim figures.

A Majority Lack a Will or Trust
Shockingly, only a third of Americans have a will or trust in place. This fact can be attributed to widespread myths and apprehensions surrounding estate planning. A significant number of people without a will or trust feel that their assets are too modest to warrant an estate plan. The misconception that estate planning caters only to the affluent, alongside hurdles like hectic schedules, perceived complexity or cost, or the uncomfortable subject of mortality, often delays this critical task. However, the advantages of proactive planning substantially outweigh the drawbacks of postponement.

Estate Planning Conversations Are Often Avoided
Death is an uncomfortable topic for many, yet discussing it and the accompanying estate planning aspects with family can be incredibly beneficial. It's alarming that 52% of individuals are clueless about where their parents have stored their estate planning documents, and a mere 46% of executors are aware of their nomination in a will. It's pivotal to have open conversations with your family regarding the whereabouts of essential documents and inform those involved in your estate plan about their roles, ensuring clarity and preparedness for the future. Some estate planners facilitate family meetings post the drafting of an estate plan to elucidate the responsibilities entailed.

Family Disputes Are Not Uncommon
A survey by LegalShield revealed that 58% of American adults have either been embroiled in or know someone who has faced family conflicts stemming from inadequate estate planning. Such disputes, often revolving around the distribution of assets post a loved one’s demise, underscore the necessity of meticulous planning. Engaging a proficient estate planning attorney can be instrumental in crafting a plan that minimizes familial discord and the potential for permanent rifts.

Seize the Moment to Plan or Revise Your Estate
The importance of solid planning stands timeless. With American retirees poised to transfer an astounding $36 trillion to heirs, charitable causes, and other beneficiaries over the forthcoming three decades, the call for a thorough financial and estate plan has never been louder. Cast aside apprehensions and kick start or proceed with your planning journey to steer clear of morphing into an unfavorable estate planning statistic. For any inquiries or guidance on initiating or amending your estate plan, we are just a call away.

When it comes to estate planning and legacy planning, most individuals focus on passing down their assets to their children and heirs. However, for those seeking to establish a legacy that will endure for generations, the concept of a dynasty trust becomes particularly intriguing.

A dynasty trust, an integral part of estate planning, is an irrevocable trust that offers similar tax advantages and asset protection as other trust types, but with a remarkable distinction—it can span multiple generations. Often referred to as perpetual trusts, dynasty trusts are meticulously designed to last indefinitely, as long as the trust's assets remain intact. Given the long-term nature of a dynasty trust, it is imperative to establish it with utmost care and attention to detail. Once the trust is in place, its rules generally cannot be altered, underscoring the importance of getting everything right from the beginning.

 

 

Understanding the Mechanism of a Dynasty Trust

Setting up a dynasty trust follows a process akin to that of any other trust. The grantor, who serves as the trust's creator, transfers funds and assets into the trust during their lifetime or, in the case of a testamentary dynasty trust, after their death. Once the trust is funded, it becomes irrevocable, and the rules established by the grantor become fixed. Modifying these rules is only possible under specific state laws that govern trust modifications.

 

Selecting the Ideal Trustee for Your Dynasty Trust

When establishing a dynasty trust, thoughtful consideration must be given to selecting the most suitable trustee. It is common practice to appoint an independent trustee, such as a bank or trust company, to administer the trust throughout its existence. Although a beneficiary can serve as a trustee, this approach may give rise to potential issues concerning taxes and creditor protection. A beneficiary-controlled trust can have significant implications for income and estate taxes, depending on the extent of the beneficiary's powers. It can also impact the level of asset protection provided to the beneficiary and expose family wealth to the risk of misappropriation. On the other hand, a corporate trustee, such as the dynasty trust itself, possesses indefinite legal life and can ensure uninterrupted administration across generations. Corporate trustees typically charge an annual fee based on the value of assets held in the trust.

 

Determining Who Should Utilize a Dynasty Trust

While trusts are generally beneficial for individuals across various financial backgrounds, there are exceptions, and the dynasty trust is one of them. Establishing a dynasty trust does not necessitate grand dynastic aspirations akin to illustrious families like the Medici or the House of Windsor. However, it is most commonly utilized by families with substantial wealth. While there are no legal requirements regarding the minimum amount of funds needed to establish a dynasty trust, from a practical perspective, it is typically suitable for those with sufficient wealth and assets capable of sustaining multiple generations, taking into account the financial needs and responsibilities of the beneficiaries. Grantors who are concerned about future generations beyond their children often opt for dynasty trusts as part of their estate and legacy planning. Additionally, dynasty trusts can prove invaluable for families that own a family business and desire to maintain its continuity within the family lineage.

Statistics reveal that many family businesses fail to survive beyond the second or third generation, but a dynasty trust can significantly enhance the chances of success. By placing shares of the business into the trust, the grantor can provide for multiple generations of beneficiaries while ensuring the seamless continuation of business operations through professional trustee management. The trustee assumes responsibility for managing the business affairs and maintaining continuity, while the beneficiaries reap financial benefits. Furthermore, the grantor can include specific terms within the trust to guarantee competent business management, such as mandating the trustee to establish an advisory council functioning as a board of directors.

 

Tax Benefits of a Dynasty Trust: Preserving Your Wealth for Future Generations

In the realm of estate planning and legacy planning, one of the notable advantages of establishing a dynasty trust is the potential for significant tax benefits. By leveraging the federal estate tax exemption amount (which currently stands at $12.06 million per individual in 2022, or twice that amount for couples) to fund a dynasty trust, you can effectively transfer money and property directly to your grandchildren while avoiding gift or generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes. To achieve this, you would place accounts and property into the trust and file a gift tax return to allocate appropriate tax exemptions to the trust or pay a portion of the wealth transfer tax. This strategic approach ensures that these assets are not included in your taxable estate, nor in the taxable estates of your beneficiaries, provided that the trust is fully exempt from GST tax.

Furthermore, utilizing trust funds to cover a beneficiary's living expenses or investing in a home for their benefit can also help reduce their taxable estate. Additionally, when a dynasty trust is properly drafted, accounts and property left to your loved ones within the trust can enjoy protection from creditors and divorce courts. In contrast, gifting money outright may not offer these same protective benefits.

It is worth noting that dynasty trusts are not available in every state due to the rule against perpetuities, a common law principle that restricts the duration of controlled property interests, including those established within trusts. This rule, which was not specifically created for trusts, aims to prevent individuals from exerting control over property ownership for an extended period after their demise through legal instruments like deeds and trusts. However, many states have modified or even eliminated this rule, as its interpretation can be complex. With the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you may be able to establish a trust in a state where you do not reside, taking advantage of more favorable laws.

 

Crafting Your Dynasty: Navigating the Process

If you are considering the establishment of a dynasty trust, our firm can connect you with a skilled estate planning attorney who can guide you through the process. During your consultation, crucial factors such as selecting a trustee and beneficiaries, implementing tax and creditor protection strategies, understanding state laws pertaining to perpetual trusts, and aligning the dynasty trust with your comprehensive estate plan will be thoroughly discussed. Taking this initial step will enable you to secure your legacy and ensure the preservation of your wealth for future generations. To embark on this journey, please reach out to us, and we will be delighted to assist you.

 

May marks not only the end of the academic year and the start of summer, but it also marks the beginning of the busiest season for moving - National Moving Month! When you're moving, there are numerous tasks to tackle, including packing your belongings, managing utilities, forwarding mail, updating voter registration, and more. As you prepare for your next move, there are two major tasks to take into consideration:

 

Locating Your Important Documents

In all of the chaos of moving boxes and packing tape, it is easy for things to get lost in the shuffle or even thrown out during a move. Certain important documents, such as birth certificates, social security cards, passports, financial statements and estate planning documents, should not be packed up and put on the moving truck along with your less important belongings. Keep these important documents safe and accessible during your move and ensure that they do not get thrown out by accident.

One idea is to purchase a portable file box with an attached lid and a secure latch. You might consider purchasing a brightly colored one so that it is easily identifiable. Then, place this file box in a secure and easily accessible location. If you are moving locally, a logical place might be at a family member’s or friend’s home. If you are moving a longer distance, that place might be the trunk of your car.

Having electronic backup copies of your important documents is a wise decision, especially during a move. You can take pictures of your documents and save them on your smartphone or a password-protected removable flash or external hard drive. Another option would be to store it in the cloud. This way, you'll always have a copy of these important documents in case you cannot locate the original.

Adding this step to your moving checklist can save you time and from stress. For example, you will not have to run around searching through unpacked boxes for your children's birth certificates to register them for their new school.

 

Meeting with Your Advisor Team

When moving, it's important to not only contact the moving company, but also to reach out to your team of advisors. A major consideration is the cost associated with the move, which is influenced by factors like the size of your home, the distance of the move, and your preference for do-it-yourself tasks. To ensure your moving expenses align with your long-term financial objectives, it's advisable to consult your financial advisor and establish a moving budget.

It is recommended to contact your estate planning attorney if you are moving different states. While a will or trust created in one state should generally be valid in another, certain documents such as a financial or medical power of attorney may be state-specific. Due to the variations in estate planning laws across different states, it is strongly advised that you have your estate planning documents examined to ensure their effectiveness in your new state. You can have your attorney review the documents or they can assist you in finding a local attorney who can review them for you in your new state.

If you and your spouse are moving out of or into a community property state, your estate planning may be more complicated. In these states, any property acquired during the marriage is presumed to be owned equally by both spouses, while property brought into the marriage by one spouse or acquired by gift or inheritance is separate property. Moving from a community property state to a common law state or vice versa raises questions about the status of community property. For instance, if a couple purchases a home in California during their marriage and then moves to Nebraska and buys a new home with the proceeds from selling their California home, is the new Nebraska home community property? Your estate planning attorney can answer these questions and help you take necessary steps to maintain any tax benefits.

Moving involves many things to consider, but don't forget to keep your important documents secure and meet with your team of advisers. These are crucial items to add to your moving checklist. If you're planning to move soon, we would be more than happy to help you keep this as smooth as possible.

 

Every child is a precious gift, and as parents or grandparents, we strive to plan for their future, anticipating their needs and aspirations. However, families with special needs children or grandchildren face additional responsibilities in ensuring their loved one's future is secure, fulfilling, and supported. To ensure a flourishing future for your special needs child or grandchild, estate planning measures focused on their unique circumstances are essential. We recommend the following steps:

 

Have a Special/Supplemental Needs Trust Prepared

When it comes to estate planning, creating a Special or Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT) for your special needs child or grandchild should be a top priority. An SNT is a specialized trust designed to set aside funds and assets for the benefit of a beneficiary who may qualify for public assistance due to their disabilities. It can be established as a standalone trust or added to your existing trust.

It's important to note that government programs providing aid to disabled individuals have strict criteria regarding the amount of money and property a person can own while receiving benefits. Structuring any inheritance your special needs beneficiary may receive in a way that doesn't disqualify them from obtaining government benefits is crucial. Even if they are not currently receiving government benefits, considering the possibility of future needs is essential. To ensure all opportunities are available, it is vital that the trust is meticulously drafted by a lawyer well-versed in the eligibility requirements for government benefits.

An SNT not only provides financial security but also allows you to appoint a care manager or advisory committee. The care manager serves as an advocate for your special needs beneficiary, overseeing their well-being periodically or daily, depending on their level of care requirements. An advisory committee, comprising family members, friends, and professionals, can provide guidance to the trustee on the beneficiary's needs and the best use of the funds.

Additionally, the SNT can include a statement of intent, outlining the trust's purpose and how the funds should be utilized. This section acts as a safety net in case changes in the law make the beneficiary ineligible for government benefits. It allows for modifications to ensure your original intentions are met, even in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

 

Write Down Your Instructions

In addition to establishing an SNT, putting your instructions in writing is crucial to ensure your wishes are carried out as intended. Consider creating a letter or memorandum of intent that provides guidance to your trustee on managing the trust after your passing. Although not legally binding, this document offers valuable insights into your true intentions. You can include details on how the funds should be used in accordance with government rules, specific goals you would like the beneficiary to achieve, and the standard of living you envision for them.

 

Explore Life Insurance as a Funding Option

Supporting a special needs child or grandchild can be financially demanding, and it's important to consider how to sustain their care once you pass away. Life insurance can be a valuable tool in ensuring there will be sufficient funds for the trustee to use for their benefit. By designating the SNT as the beneficiary, you can provide a lump sum payment that is not subject to the same tax liabilities as retirement accounts.

 

Assess Your Retirement Account Distribution Options

The SECURE Act has brought changes to how beneficiaries can receive distributions from inherited IRAs, potentially impacting the financial support available to your special needs beneficiary. However, the Act also recognizes "eligible designated beneficiaries," including individuals with disabilities, who can still receive distributions over their life expectancies. Congress has established rules that allow the life expectancy of disabled beneficiaries to be used for certain types of trusts. If you have a substantial retirement account, it is crucial to discuss your distribution options to maximize benefits for all your beneficiaries.

 

Contact Us for Assistance!

We understand that securing a bright future for your special needs child or grandchild is of utmost importance to you. Our priority is to work with you in developing a comprehensive plan that will guarantee continued care and well-being for your loved ones. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us to schedule an appointment so that we can begin this process together.

When Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, passed away in 1977, he left behind a complicated legacy, just like his famous dance moves. His estate, including the iconic Graceland, eventually ended up in the hands of his only child, Lisa Marie Presley. However, the future of Elvis's legacy and the fate of his estate face challenges ahead. These challenges involve Lisa Marie's personal financial issues, a significant age gap among her children, and even a legal dispute initiated by her mother, Priscilla Presley. The unfolding of this captivating saga will determine the course of Elvis's rockin' legacy.

From Elvis to Lisa Marie: Inheritance and Financial Legacy
Lisa Marie, born in 1968 to the legendary rock and roll icon Elvis Presley and his wife Priscilla Presley, had to face the tragic loss of her father at a young age. Sadly, Elvis passed away at forty-two due to a heart attack. Fast forward to January 2023, and Lisa Marie herself succumbed to heart problems at the age of fifty-four.

Despite Elvis's untimely departure, his legacy has continued to thrive, with his estate earning an impressive $400 million in the previous year alone. The value of the estate skyrocketed to over $1 billion, thanks in part to the 2022 Elvis biopic movie. This created a substantial financial legacy for Lisa Marie to inherit.

The Elvis Presley Trust
When Elvis Presley passed away, his estate was placed in a trust with Lisa Marie, his grandmother, and his father as beneficiaries. According to the trust, Lisa Marie's inheritance was held in trust until she turned twenty-five in February 1993. After that, the trust dissolved automatically, and Lisa Marie inherited $100 million, including Graceland, her childhood home.

Today, Graceland stands as a museum and popular tourist attraction, generating over $10 million annually. To manage Graceland and the rest of Elvis's estate, which includes Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. (EPE), Lisa Marie established the Elvis Presley Trust. Until 2005, Lisa Marie served as the owner and chairperson of EPE's board, but she later sold 85 percent of its assets.

Graceland and the Living Trust
Graceland, the iconic mansion that was once Elvis Presley's residence, has become a symbol of his legacy and a beloved tourist destination. After Lisa Marie inherited it, she made it clear that Graceland would always remain within the family.

Lisa Marie's children, Riley Keough, Harper Lockwood, and Finley Lockwood, are set to inherit her fortune and properties through a living trust. However, Lisa Marie's son, Benjamin Keough, tragically passed away in 2020.

Considering that it's unclear whether Lisa Marie had a separate will in place, the living trust, an estate planning document, will play a significant role in determining the distribution of her assets. Through the living trust, individuals can transfer ownership of accounts and property to a separate entity, the trust, which they control while alive. The trust also names a successor trustee to manage the accounts and property after their passing.

Priscilla Presley's Trust Challenge
A challenge to Lisa Marie's living trust has emerged from an unexpected source—her own mother, Priscilla Presley. The legal dispute revolves around a 2016 amendment to the trust, which removed Priscilla and a former business manager as trustees and replaced them with Lisa Marie's daughter, Riley Keough, and her late son, Benjamin Keough.

Navigating the Challenges: Estate Planning and Protecting Your Legacy
Priscilla's claim challenges the validity of the living trust amendment, citing violations of legal requirements. She highlights the lack of proper notification, absence of witnesses or notarization, and even a misspelling of her name in the document. Adding to her concerns, Priscilla alleges that her daughter's signature appears suspiciously different from her usual signature. Consequently, she has sought the court's intervention to invalidate the amendment that removed her as the trustee.

Lisa Marie's Financial Struggles
Recent legal documents indicate that Lisa Marie faced financial challenges before her passing, despite inheriting $100 million at the age of twenty-five. She held approximately $95,000 in cash and possessed various assets such as bonds and stocks valued at $715,000. Although she earned over $100,000 per month from EPE, she also carried a $1 million tax debt and incurred monthly expenses of $92,000. Furthermore, her ex-husband, Michael Lockwood, reopened a lawsuit seeking $4,600 per month in child support.

By 2016, Lisa Marie's $100 million trust had significantly dwindled to just $14,000 in cash. Her former manager, Barry Siegel, faced allegations of mismanaging her finances, which resulted in a decline of her wealth. Court records reveal that Lisa Marie was burdened with a $16.67 million debt at that time. However, in 2019, Siegel countered the claims and asserted that the sale of her 85 percent stake in EPE helped resolve over $20 million in debts.

Potential Legal Challenges for the Lisa Marie Presley Estate
The legal ambiguity surrounding Lisa Marie's estate gives rise to numerous potential legal issues that will likely require judicial resolution. One such challenge is Priscilla's claim against the living trust amendment. If her challenge is successful, the amendment would be considered void, making Priscilla the successor trustee responsible for managing the trust's assets and funds instead of Lisa Marie's daughter, Riley. This matter would necessitate court intervention for resolution.

Creditor Claims
Although it remains uncertain whether Lisa Marie had outstanding debts, if she did, creditors could make claims against her estate. The estate would need to determine whether to accept or reject these claims. Rejecting them could lead to legal disputes. Creditors hold priority over beneficiaries, which means that Lisa Marie's accounts and property, including Graceland, might need to be sold to satisfy any outstanding debts. Additionally, even after the debts are settled, the estate may still be subject to estate taxes, which could further complicate matters if creditors decide to initiate lawsuits.

Her Daughters' Inheritance
Assuming the estate possesses sufficient funds to settle debts without selling Graceland, Lisa Marie's three daughters, Riley, Harper, and Finley, are poised to inherit the mansion and any remaining property or funds. However, the upkeep and tax costs associated with Graceland surpass $500,000 annually. It remains uncertain whether the daughters would collectively agree to bear these expenses and preserve the Elvis legacy within the family.

The daughters have the option to sell Graceland, but this decision could ignite internal conflicts if even one daughter wishes to pursue a sale. Additionally, crucial details regarding the ages of the daughters and their inheritances remain unknown. Did Lisa Marie establish a trust to hold her twin daughters' inheritances until they reach a specific age, as her father did for her? Or does the trustee possess discretionary power over the funds? Moreover, depending on the outcome of the trust challenge, will the trustee ultimately be Riley or Priscilla?

Furthermore, the question of whether Lisa Marie distributed her estate equally among her daughters remains unclear, as there is no legal requirement for equal distribution.

Control What You Can with an Estate Plan
The sudden and tragic passing of Lisa Marie Presley serves as a reminder that death can come unexpectedly. However, through estate planning, we can exert some control over our legacy.
Crafting a comprehensive estate plan can help alleviate some of the uncertainty and provide peace of mind to both ourselves and our loved ones. If you're ready to start planning for the future, please reach out to our office to schedule a consultation.

For over a quarter of a century, the National Safety Council has designated June as a
month of paramount importance - a time to honor and prioritize safety at a national
level. This annual celebration, known as National Safety Month, serves as a powerful
reminder of the critical role that safety plays in our lives.

The aim of this month-long campaign is to increase public awareness about the most
significant safety and health risks faced by people in the United States. While many
people are aware of common safety hazards, such as physical injuries, they may not
realize that incapacity or death can result in substantial financial and emotional
consequences for themselves and their families. A revocable living trust is a legal tool
that can help protect you and your loved ones from the costs, uncertainty, and chaos
that may arise in the event of your incapacity or death.

Protection by a Revocable Living Trust for Yourself
Just like anyone else, you face the risk of experiencing a catastrophic accident or illness
that could leave you incapable of taking care of yourself or your loved ones. This
incapacity might be temporary, or it could last until your eventual death. The total cost of
incapacity can be difficult to calculate and can include lost wages, as well as the
expenses of required medical care. These expenses may include requiring assistance
with daily activities such as bathing, eating or dressing. However, it can quickly become
very costly - the average cost of assisted living in the United States in 2020 was
approximately $4,300 per month.

A revocable living trust is an essential legal tool that helps protect you and your loved
ones by providing instructions for how you will be financially supported during your
incapacity. With a revocable living trust, you can choose who will manage your finances
when you are no longer able to handle them yourself. There’s no better time than now
to establish a revocable living trust because it is revocable, which means that you can
change it at any time and alter it as your life circumstances change, as long as you have
the mental capacity.

Protection by a Revocable Living Trust for Your Loved Ones
Your loved ones’ financial and emotional well-being is also protected by a revocable
living trust. It ensures that your wishes are clearly outlined for what should happen in
the event of your incapacity or death. This prevents your loved ones from having to speculate
on your desires or worse, having to follow state law to determine who should handle your finances and end-of-life affairs.

Probate fees, which vary significantly by state, can also be very expensive. For
example, in California, attorney and executor fees for probating an $800,000 home
could be as high as $38,000, as set by law. A revocable living trust can help avoid
probate and those high accompanying fees.

Revocable living trusts also offer privacy protection. Without the instructions provided in
these trusts, family members often have to resort to public court proceedings. This
means that the court and other curious individuals may pry into your private affairs.

Furthermore, these types of trusts can provide basic martial deduction planning to
maximize the use of you and your spouse’s estate tax exemptions. This helps to reduce
your loved ones’ estate tax burden, after your death. Finally, by using this legal tool, you
can protect the money you leave to your loved ones from their creditors.

Properly Funding Your Revocable Living Trust
To ensure that a revocable living trust serves its intended purpose, it must be properly
funded. This means that any property you own must be transferred to the trust, or for
certain assets, the trust must be named as the beneficiary. Failure to properly fund your
trust may result in the need for probate. To avoid this, it is essential to review any
correspondence you have received from your attorney regarding which accounts and
properties should be owned by the trust or designated as beneficiaries. It is especially a
good time to do this in the month of June, which is National Safety Month!

Given the importance of the instructions contained in a revocable living trust, it is
advisable to review them annually to ensure that they still align with your final wishes. If
changes are necessary, it is recommended that you seek assistance from a
professional to update your trust accordingly. This will ensure that your trust continues
to serve you and your loved ones during times of incapacity and after your passing.

Please do not Hesitate to Contact Anderson, Dorn, & Rader for Help with Updating your Trust!

Prepare to be amazed! May is not just any ordinary month - it's National Home Remodeling Month, the time of year when the National Association of Home Builders officially recognizes the tremendous value of home improvement projects. Springtime comes with spring cleanings and home improvement projects, but can also be a good time to consider updating your estate planning documents.

If you need to make small updates to your estate planning documents, such as changing the names of beneficiaries or decision makers, you may wonder whether you can take care of these changes on your own or if you should seek the assistance of a professional. Here are some things to consider before choosing which option is best for you:

If Your Name Changes
If you've changed your name due to marriage and/or your own personal preference, and your estate planning documents don't need to be changed, you may only need to keep copies of any legal paperwork reflecting the name change. Keep copies of these documents together with your estate planning documents. If you've remarried and want to change your name in your estate planning information, or if a trust you established has your old name in the title, it's best to consult an industry professional, such as an attorney, to ensure that the name change is properly handled.

If a Beneficiary’s Name Changes
Wondering what you should do if your beneficiary's name changes? Whether it is due to marriage and/or personal preference, staying on top of this information can save you from running into issues later down the road. While updating your estate planning documents is not necessarily critical, it may be necessary for your beneficiary to prove their identity with a court order, marriage certificate, or birth certificate. It is important to avoid making changes directly on your estate planning documents, such as crossing out a name and writing in a new one. This has resulted in confusion and has even prompted litigation in the past. Courts have had to weigh in on these types of edits to estate planning documents to determine their validity and intent. Even though it may seem harmless, unforeseen consequences can often arise when attempting to edit legal documents yourself.

Adding or Removing a Beneficiary
When events occur such as the birth of a child or the passing of a beneficiary, you may wonder if you need to update your estate planning documents. The answer is that it depends on the language in your documents. Some estate planning documents are drafted to anticipate future additions or removals of beneficiaries by name. It is highly important to seek legal advice before making any changes to your estate planning documents, as serious legal consequences can result from attempting to do so on your own.

Making changes without legal advice could result in unintentionally cutting off people from receiving an inheritance or having your property go to those who never intended to benefit. For instance, adding a spouse’s name to the list of children in your estate planning documents could lead to unintended consequences if the spouse remarries after the child’s death. The former in-law could become a beneficiary of the family trust and have certain rights regarding the trust’s administration, including the right to demand a copy of the trust documents and any financial accountancy. Once that share is paid out, the former in-law might use it in a way that it was not originally intended for, causing negative consequences from an innocent and well-meaning attempt to provide for an in-law.

Appointing New Trusted Decision Makers
In some cases, you may want to appoint new individuals to make important decisions about your property if you become incapacitated or pass away. However, it’s important to understand that certain legal documents cannot be amended easily. While it may be tempting to simply cross off the names of the people you want to remove and add new preferred decision-makers, this can actually void the document under certain circumstances.

If you need to make such important changes, it’s best to have the documents redrafted and executed with the same formalities used in the original documents, ensuring that you follow the applicable state law. For instance, your state may require multiple unrelated witnesses to the signing of a modified will, even if the change you’re making is a one-sentence amendment. The same is true for a codicil, which is an amendment to your will. Other legal documents, such as a power of attorney, a trust amendment, or restatement, may also require similar formalities, such as having your signature notarized.

Modifying Distribution Provisions
There may be times when you consider altering the distribution provisions of your will or trust by changing the percentage/fraction shares of your estate. It is important to note that this modification should be avoided when attempting to make such changes on your own. It is always advisable to consult an attorney if you wish to modify the distribution provisions of your will or trust. You must consider this amendment very carefully and execute it with strict documentation. Such a change to your estate planning documents carries the risk that a beneficiary who receives less under the amendment may challenge it and use any argument available to invalidate the changes. An experienced estate planning attorney will know the necessary steps to take to ensure that your legal documents will be honored by your beneficiaries and the courts after you pass away.

As you have seen, remodeling your estate plan without the help of a trained and experienced attorney can lead to many potential issues. When handled properly, these changes don’t have to be expensive. Your attorney can quickly and inexpensively fix some of these small issues by drafting an amendment to your estate planning documents. Other changes may require more work because the issues are considerably more complex than you first realized. In either case, with a legal professional guiding you through the process, you can be confident that you will not be leaving your loved ones with a legal mess to sort out after you are gone.

If you are uncertain about whether you need an attorney to help you modify your estate plan, we encourage you to contact us. We are happy to consult with you and help you determine what changes, if any, you may need to make.

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