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Five steps to ensure your estate plan meets your needs

Creating a comprehensive Florida estate plan is the first step in protecting assets for you and your family. But don’t stop there. Here are some tips to ensure your estate is properly organized:

If you have a safe deposit box, name a trusted co-owner of the box so your family can access it without having to get a court order. When you die, your Durable Power of Attorney dies with you, so your executor will not have immediate access to the box.

If you are in the habit of hiding valuables in your home, tell a trusted family member where those hiding places are.

If you use a name that is not your legal name on your bank account or other financial accounts – i.e., Bob Brown instead of Robert Brown – be sure that your alternate name is on your estate planning documents.

If a Florida resident passes away in another state, be sure their Florida address is noted when the death is reported. An out-of-state address on a death certificate can lead to problems at probate.

Be sure the person you have named as your executor or trustee is willing and able to serve. There are many instances when estate planning documents have not been updated, and a named representative has passed away or become disabled, requiring the court to get involved.

Although estates may be smaller after the economic downturn of the last few years, there’s now more room for flexibility, and if you play your cards right, more of your estate will end up going to your heirs rather than to the government.

So what does it mean to play your cards right?

Be specific about the distribution of your estate. Questions about your estate will inevitably lead to fights between family members. Being clear in your will or trust means fewer questions and fewer fights.

Build flexibility into your estate plan. A revocable trust as opposed to an irrevocable trust will give your executor more flexibility to manage assets when they need to be managed.

Reassess (and possibly re-title) how you hold your assets and plan to take advantage of the current exemption ($5.49 million per person, $10.98 million for couples.)

Make gifts now, rather than after you’re gone. Gifting while you are still alive can remove taxable assets from your estate, and since the estate tax exemption is so high, it’s a good time to give. You may also want to consider how much you can accomplish with a pen and checkbook, including paying tuition and medical expenses for your grandchildren with no tax consequences.

But the first thing you need to do is dust off your existing estate plan and take it to a Florida estate planning attorney for review. If you haven’t done so in awhile, it’s time to reassess, revise, and take control again.

At The Estate, Trust and Elder Law Firm, P.L. we help our Treasure Coast clients develop and implement comprehensive estate planning strategies personally tailored to their unique situation, needs, and goals. Contact us for your free initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Consider These Estate Planning Implications Before Remarriage

Consider These Estate Planning Implications Before RemarriageClearly the decision to get remarried is more than a financial one, but there are some estate planning factors that should be taken into consideration, especially if you are older. The decision to remain single or get remarried can impact your ability to leave assets to your heirs.

If your intended has large financial liabilities, they may become your liabilities when you marry. Suppose your beloved has been through a messy divorce and owes lots of money, but you are in a solid financial position. You might think twice about tying the knot – at least not without protecting your assets.

You should also consider your existing benefits. If you are a widow collecting your deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits and remarry, you will qualify for half of your new spouse’s benefits. Depending on how the calculations work out, it could be much better to stay single and collect the benefits earned by your deceased spouse. You will likely lose the payments from your deceased spouse’s pension and coverage from their healthcare provider if you remarry.

Medicare can complicate things further. Assuming one of you is on Medicare or Medicaid and one of you is not, getting married can open the new spouse’s assets up to Medicare or Medicaid claims. This can negatively impact your ability to pay for healthcare and your future financial stability.

If you are considering remarriage, it is a good idea to consult an estate planning attorney who can give sound advice about the changes it will make to your financial situation.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your long-term care planning, please contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Estate Planning Considerations for Childless Seniors

Estate Planning Considerations for Childless SeniorsWhile many of us have been blessed with the good fortune of having children we can count on to care for us in our “golden years,” and whom we will happily leave our earthly belongings to when we die, there are also many of us who do not.

Childless married couples often turn to each other as the primary person to act as their agents to make financial and healthcare decisions in case of incapacitation. When one dies, the surviving spouse should look to other family members, friends or a trusted financial adviser to fulfill these duties. It is important that the person chosen to act, especially in the healthcare role, is fully informed about what these duties will entail and agrees to serve. Usually, the best candidates for these roles are people who are responsible in general, can keep a cool head in a crisis, and are someone you trust to act on your wishes.

Single seniors who are childless often face additional challenges as they age, particularly if they wish to remain at home. It is vital to create a network of caregivers – from extended family, close friends or a paid source like a geriatric caregiver or home health aide – to provide any necessary assistance.

Estate planning can be tricky for those without children as well. Married couples will likely leave everything to each other, but if one has a favored relative they want to inherit assets and they die first, the surviving spouse and his or her heirs will inherit everything. Couples can circumvent this by naming contingency beneficiaries in their wills and spelling out who will inherit what and when.

The Estate, Trust & Elder Law Firm, P.L., provides attorney services to a range of clients from young families to advanced and crisis long-term care for seniors. Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

10 Estate Planning Steps to Take in the New Year

10 Estate Planning Steps to Take in the New YearIs 2017 the year you resolve to get your financial house in order? If so, you need to consider these 10 estate planning steps that will help you achieve your goal:

  1. Create/update estate plan. If it’s been a few years since you last reviewed your estate plan or trust, make an appointment with your estate planning attorney to do so now, especially if you have experienced any life changes like a divorce, remarriage, marriage, birth or a child or grandchild, etc.
  2. Review life insurance policies. Does your life insurance policy need to be adjusted to reflect life changes – i.e., your children are now independent adults? Life insurance policies are investments, and should be treated as such and reviewed periodically for efficacy.
  3. Use asset protection strategies. To protect assets for future generations, your estate plan needs to incorporate important asset protection strategies that will shield assets from a child’s potential divorce or debt issues.
  4. Make a plan for the family business. Many Florida business owners have their personal wealth tied up in a family business. The estate plan for a business owner needs to address future ownership and management of the business and incorporate a buy-sell agreement if partners are involved.
  5. Identify beneficiaries correctly. Incorrectly identifying a beneficiary for your retirement or other financial accounts can be disastrous. Your beneficiary designations must be specific for each account, as these designations will trump whatever is written in your will.
  6. Properly fund your revocable trust. If you have established a revocable trust but have not yet titled the assets you are placing in the trust, it is an empty shell and will not help you avoid probate.
  7. Review/update beneficiary designations. In addition to correctly identifying beneficiaries for your IRAs, life insurance policies, retirement accounts and annuities, you need to be sure those designations are still valid. If one of your beneficiaries has died since you last updated your beneficiary forms, or if you have named a minor child who is not eligible to inherit until age 18, a court-appointed guardian will likely determine where your assets will go.
  8. Plan for incapacity. In Florida, an Advance Health Care Directive should be used in conjunction with a Living Will to express your wishes on who you want to make health care decisions for you in case you become incapacitated. You should also execute a Durable Power of Attorney to handle your financial affairs in case of incapacitation as well.
  9. Distribute assets via a will. Many elderly parents name a child as joint tenants with right of survivorship on bank accounts as a convenience factor, but this move can have unintended consequences that can lead to litigation. A better strategy is to distribute all assets via a comprehensive last will and testament or a trust.
  10. Create flexibility in trusts. Providing for flexibility in trust provisions – especially for trusts intended to last over time – is critical to give heirs the means to deal with unforeseen circumstances that may arise.

With the proper guidance, you can protect your finances and spare your loved ones the frustration of having to make costly and difficult decisions.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

 

Avoid These Common Estate Planning Missteps

Avoid These Common Estate Planning MisstepsThe biggest estate planning mistake anyone can make is failing to make a plan. Beyond ensuring your assets go to the proper heirs, an estate plan also helps you prepare for retirement and designates those who will make important health care and financial decisions for you in case you are unable to make them for yourself.

Here are 5 common estate planning mistakes you should avoid this year:

  1. Procrastination. This is the #1 asset killer, whether it’s putting off creating an estate plan altogether, or neglecting to revise your estate plan when life circumstances – divorce, remarriage, births – bring change into your life.
  2. Not Choosing a Guardian. This could be filed under procrastination as well – putting off the naming of a guardian because you and your spouse can’t decide on someone. However, in this case, done is always better than perfect. And you can always change your mind.
  3. Wrong Beneficiaries. This happens a lot – someone divorces, remarries, has children and never updates the beneficiary list for their IRAs, 401(K)s and life insurance policies. Ex-spouses benefit a lot from this one, since a beneficiary form trumps a will.
  4. No Power of Attorney Designations. Who do you want to make your healthcare or financial decisions for you if you can’t? A stranger? Probably not. Executing durable powers of attorney allows you to appoint who you want to carry out your wishes in case of incapacity.
  5. Not Enough Life Insurance. If you are important to your family as an income provider, you need to have enough life insurance to see them comfortably through a difficult financial and emotional time.

The Estate, Trust & Elder Law Firm, P.L., provides attorney services ranging from estate planning for young families to advanced and crisis long-term care for seniors. Contact us for your free initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

5 Reasons Not to Delay Your Estate Planning

5 Reasons Not to Delay Your Estate PlanningIt is certainly human nature to not want to contemplate our own demise; however, we should be viewing estate planning as a gift that we leave to our loved ones, the gift of an organized estate and protected assets.

Here are our Top 5 reasons you should create an estate plan now:

  1. If you don’t have a plan for the disposition of your assets, the state of Florida does – and it involves a potentially expensive and lengthy probate process.
  2. If you have minor children and don’t make plans for them, the state of Florida will have a big say in who takes care of them. It may not be someone you would have chosen.
  3. If you don’t get documents in place prior to any potential future mental incapacity, your estate could be exposed to guardianship and the attendant complications and expenses.
  4. If you haven’t filled out or updated your beneficiary forms on retirement or investment accounts, your ex-spouse could benefit greatly.
  5. If you haven’t taken steps to avoid probate through estate planning, your financial information is made public, which could be a boon for creditors.

While it can be very difficult to get people to take the time to create an estate plan, the unfortunate circumstances that could befall your loved ones if you don’t plan is well worth your time invest now.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only four Treasure Coast attorneys who is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Elder Law. Contact us for your free initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

5 Estate Planning Essentials You Should Implement Now

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Procrastination is a very human trait; unfortunately, it can often lead to unintended consequences. Whether it is taking care of your physical health or your financial health, don’t let procrastination stand in the way of living your best life. Here are five estate planning essentials you should implement now:

Will. How would you feel if a stranger came to your house and just started giving all your stuff away? Without a will, that is basically what will happen. Without a will, it will be a judge instead of you deciding on the people who will benefit from your estate. A will is also the only legal instrument you can use to name a legal guardian for your minor children.

Advance Medical Directive. Also known as a health care proxy or durable power of attorney for healthcare, this document provides the legal right for the person of your choice (your representative) to make healthcare decisions for you in case you become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions for yourself.

Living Will. This goes hand-in-hand with an advance medical directive, and is a legal way for you to express which medical treatments you do or do not want.

Power of Attorney. This covers the financial management bases by giving a person you choose the legal power to handle your finances should you not be able to do so. Powers of attorney can become effective immediately or through a triggering event like a sudden illness or incapacity.

Trust. Trusts are used to transfer assets in a tax-advantaged way, and there are a wide variety of trust strategies that an estate planning lawyer can tailor to meet the individual needs of you and your family.

At The Estate, Trust and Elder Law Firm, P.L. we help our Treasure Coast clients develop and implement comprehensive estate planning strategies personally tailored to their unique situation, needs, and goals.   Contact us for your free initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]