With living trust scams on the rise both nationally and in Georgia, many seniors are being tricked into buying costly and unnecessary financial products which jeopardize their long-term security. As an elder law attorney in Marietta, I want to expose these scams for National Consumer Protection Week (ncpw.gov).
Preying on loneliness and a common fear of the unknown among seniors, scammers and unscrupulous salesmen in the US and in Georgia have found a new way to defraud seniors out of thousands of dollars: living trust scams.
March 6-12 is National Consumer Protection week and as a Marietta elder law attorney, I am taking this opportunity to warn seniors of these costly living trust scams in the metropolitan Atlanta area.
Don’t get me wrong: Living trusts can be an excellent estate planning tool to avoid probate and ensure your wishes are honored after death, but they are not a one-size-fits-all document and certainly not right for everyone – especially seniors on fixed incomes with limited assets.
Yet through public seminars, phone, mail and door-to-door campaigns, seniors are being contacted by salesman outside of the legal field who offer to living trusts as the solution to all of their fears and financial worries.
High-pressure tactics such as gifts, companionship and exaggerations about death taxes and probate are used to make seniors believe that their assets will be tied up in court indefinitely and that their loved ones will be on the hook for thousands of dollars in taxes and legal fees after their death.
What the salesmen fail to tell these seniors is that they probably won’t even owe estate or ‘death taxes’ after their passing. Worse is that many of these “trust kits” sold to seniors only contain boilerplate language and really do nothing to avoid taxes or the probate court. The real goal of the scam is to gain access to the senior’s financial information through the Trust Kit so they can be railroaded into buying additional annuities or insurance products the senior does not need.
According to an AARP study published in 2000, about four million people older than 50 with less than $25,000 in annual income may have purchased costly, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous living trusts as a result of high-pressure sales tactics by firms falsely representing themselves as AARP affiliates. These numbers will continue to grow as seniors remain fearful about growing taxes and their future financial security.
To avoid becoming the victim of a Trust Scam, seniors should always shop around and check with a qualified estate planning lawyer before deciding on any type of will, trust or financial product such as an annuity or long-term care insurance plan. I also recommend that seniors:
- Never sign anything with options or terminology that you don’t understand.
- Don’t give into high-pressure tactics such as gifts, nagging phone calls, and limited-time offers.
- Verify any stated affiliations with senior organizations or government agencies. (Note: due to the high rate of senior trust scams, the AARP does not endorse ANY company that sells living trusts.)
- Know your rights under the FTC’s “Cooling Off Rule”. If you purchase a living trust in your home or any place other than the seller’s permanent place of business (such as a hotel seminar), you have three business days to cancel the deal.
For additional tips on how to avoid financial scams for National Consumer Protection Week, visit the government’s official website at ncpw.gov.
As a sandwich generation kid himself, Steve (Stephen M.) Worrall KNOWS the struggles you are facing as you raise children, balance the demands of your job, and take care of your aging parents, too! You can reach him at 770-425-6060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many grandparents wish to leave a legacy behind for their grandchildren; however, they may run into some issues if those children are underage. A Cobb County Will and Trust lawyer can help you determine what the best options are for leaving assets to underage beneficiaries, whether those assets are held in a Will or Trust, financial accounts, or as part of a life insurance benefit.
Underage Beneficiaries in a Will or Trust
Cobb County Will and Trust lawyers will always ask their clients if any of their beneficiaries are underage, or even if they would like to keep younger beneficiaries from accessing their full inheritance until they’ve reached a certain age, which is usually 25. If the children are underage, an adult property guardian must be named since minors are not allowed to own property. If a significant amount of property is left to the minor, a Trust should be set up to manage the property until the child comes of age. In fact, Trusts can be used to ensure the minor only receives their full inheritance once they reach a certain age or milestone, such as graduating from college, while at the same time providing assets to make sure the child can achieve that milestone. A Marietta Wills and Trusts attorney can speak with you about leaving an inheritance to an underage child and will help you choose the best option for administering the distributions.
Underage Beneficiaries of Financial Accounts
Many people choose to make beneficiary designations directly on their financial accounts, such as savings accounts, annuities, and retirement plans. Cobb County Wills and Trusts attorneys urge their clients to carefully examine the details surrounding these beneficiary designations, as minor beneficiaries often cannot directly inherit assets after your passing. It is important to consult with a Cobb County Will and Trust lawyer to determine the best way for your underage beneficiaries to receive the inheritance you leave for them at the time when they can make informed financial decisions on their own. Directing the assets to a Will or Trust is often the best bet in these situations, but consulting with an attorney will give you a much better idea of how this should be done.
Underage Beneficiaries on Life Insurance
Many parents and grandparents name their children or grandchildren as beneficiaries on their life insurance policies. As with the cases above though, an adult guardian or a Trust must be named in order to hold the life insurance proceeds until the minors come of age. It is generally not advised to name minors as beneficiaries to life insurance policies, as courts will often appoint an adult to look after the proceeds until the child comes of age – and that adult may not be someone you would have wanted appointed to such a role. Speaking with a Cobb County Will and Trust lawyer may help you determine the best way to handle your life insurance beneficiary designations.
If you have any questions about the best ways to leave an inheritance to underage beneficiaries, please contact us at 770-425-6060 or email@example.com to set up a complimentary, no obligation Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session.
It’s become more and more common now to see clients come in with probate cases that need to be dealt with in multiple states. Many seniors today are “snow birds,” meaning they spend their winters in states with warmer climates while keeping their actual residency in the state they’ve spent most of their lives in. These seniors often own property in the state where they spend their winters, whether it’s real property like a vacation home or timeshare, or even tangible property like a car, boat, or financial account.
When the senior passes away, a situation is created where an out-of-state or ancillary probate proceeding must take place to administer the out-of-state property. Whatever the case may be, clients dealing with an out-of-state probate often need help since they are dealing with two or more sets of probate rules and regulations, all of which differ from state to state.
Cobb County probate lawyers find that one of the biggest issues involving an out-of-state probate proceeding is cost. Typically, you will need to pay probate court fees for each property held under a different probate court jurisdiction. In addition, you may be faced with extra accounting and legal fees. If possible, you should try to find an attorney who is licensed both in the home state of the deceased and the state where the ancillary probate is taking place. While the fees may be higher than usual due to multiple probate filings, it will still likely be cheaper than hiring more than one attorney to deal with property and assets in each respective state.
Another serious issue can arise if the decedent did not leave behind a Last Will and Testament. When this happens, the probate court will often order distributions of the estate based on the laws of intestacy. The problem with out-of-state probates is that every state has different laws of intestacy, meaning the heirs in one state may not be the same as the heirs in another. This is a very tricky situation and one where Marietta probate attorneys urge their clients to proceed with caution as it may cause additional stress for already grieving family members.
Are there ways to avoid an out-of- state probate proceeding? Yes, but it all depends on the state where the additional property is held since, as noted before, every state has different laws concerning probate. Some of the techniques Cobb County probate lawyers use to get around an out-of-state probate often involve placing the property into a revocable living trust, owning the property jointly with someone else, or drafting a type of deed where the property is transferred upon death.
However, Cobb County probate lawyers caution that this type of planning must be done BEFORE death, and attorneys must be consulted to make sure these techniques will actually work in the state where the property is held.
If you are currently dealing with the complexities of an out-of-state probate and need assistance, or you would like to plan ahead to avoid the possibility of an ancillary probate for your loved ones, please contact us at 770-425-6060 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a consultation.
Wills and trusts administration lawyers in Cobb County, Georgia, often have the opportunity to work with local families who—in addition to planning for their regular home—also have a vacation home to take into consideration during the planning process. While you might think that real estate prices or the vacation home’s location would be the driving forces behind putting it through the wills and trusts administration process, there are actually other, highly compelling reasons.
Vacation homes don’t just come with the baggage you pack to spend a family holiday on the lake, in the woods, or on the coast; they also come with a lot of emotional history. By working with a wills and trusts administration lawyer, those leaving the vacation home behind can take this history into consideration. They may be best served to really spend some time taking their heirs’ perspectives into consideration when determining how the home should be handled.
For some family members, the vacation home may be an important part of family history, full of memories and personal rites of passage. These folks might prefer that the property be safeguarded in some sort of trust or passed as-is to heirs in a will. On the other hand, there may be family members who are less emotionally attached to the home and see it as their parents’ investment in a stable financial future. These family members would be more inclined to sell the property and share the proceeds.
There are plenty of other aspects of the situation that the original owners would want to explore with a wills and trusts administration lawyer in Marietta GA. For example, would any potential heirs be financially able to maintain the property, pay taxes on it, etc? If not, then it may be time to consider either selling the vacation home or finding a means to fund the trust so it can meet these obligations.
Other thoughts to keep in mind:
- Do heirs live close enough to the vacation home to actually use it?
- Could you leave the vacation home to those who would most appreciate it and balance that with a different inheritance for others?
- Is there someone you could name as a trustee who could oversee the property on behalf of the trust?
- Would it be possible for some family members to buy others out of their portion of the property?
- Could the property be rented out when not in use by family members as a way to support its own upkeep?
Because there are so many variables that can come into play—money, grief, family tension, tradition, etc., etc., dealing with a vacation property during estate planning is something that is probably best done under the guidance of an experienced wills and trusts administration lawyer in Marietta.
For additional questions about estate planning or wills and trust administration in Georgia or to speak with a will or trust lawyer, contact our office at 770-421-0808 for assistance.
The short answer is: it depends.
This is a question we Marietta Guardianship Lawyers get a lot, and one we typically discuss at length with non-married parents during our planning sessions. When one of the parties of a divorce decree dies, this will end the custody agreement because there’s no longer anything to govern. In most cases, custody usually reverts to the surviving parent.
An exception to this is when one of the parent’s rights to the children has been terminated. If this is the case, third-parties, such as grandparents, may be allowed to intervene. Grandparents can also intervene if they believe the surviving parent is not able to care for the children. The burden of proof would fall on the grandparents to demonstrate that the surviving biological parent is unfit and that the best interest of the children would be better served by the third party having custody They would have to go through a lengthy custody proceeding that can be stressful on everyone – especially the children.
But, this can all be avoided…
The custodial parent can make it easier for grandparents (or other relatives) to step in after their passing with just a few estate planning steps. For starters, they can name an alternative guardian for the children in their will or trust. They can further explain their reasons for the nomination and why they believe the other parent is unfit.
Of course this doesn’t guarantee that the court will allow the guardianship, but it will certainly be a factor in the court’s decision. If the court approves the nomination of a guardian, it doesn’t sever the parental rights of the surviving parent; it simply states that the children will live with the nominated guardian instead.
The bottom line is that if you believe that your ex-spouse is not fit to raise your children, it is critical that you take the steps now to put an estate plan and guardian nominations in place that will be in the best interest of the kids should something happen to you. Call us now at 770-421-0808 to set an appointment with an experienced Marietta guardianship attorney if you need assistance getting started.