Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Marietta Georgia estate planning lawyers eat, sleep, and breathe estate planning and see pretty much every kind of situation unfold. Clearly, individuals who have taken the time to create a solid estate plan nearly always fare better than those who do not. Still, there are a whole lot of myths and misunderstandings floating around that stop people from making the choice to protect their futures with an estate planning lawyer’s assistance.
In an effort to help as many people as possible, it is incredibly important to tackle these myths head-on and to debunk those that just aren’t true.
T or F: Estate plans are just for those with lots of assets.
The answer is false. So many people end up unknowingly damaging their estates and hurting their heirs because they just don’t think they have “enough stuff” to justify an estate plan. This myth absolutely needs to be debunked! As long as you own something, there will be a legal process in order to determine what to do with it after you die. This process (probate) is not only long and drawn out, but it also costs money! That money comes from the estate itself, meaning that those precious few assets you wanted to pass on could actually end up being sold in order to pay for probate and taxes. Fortunately, working with an estate planning lawyer ahead of time allows you the opportunity to protect your assets using whatever tools are appropriate for your situation.
T or F: You don’t need an estate plan as long as your family knows your wishes.
The answer is false. There are a couple of problems that Marietta GA estate planning lawyers encounter with this line of thinking. First, and probably most importantly, is that just because you and/or your family wants things to happen in a certain way, there’s no guarantee they will. Instead of your loved ones following your wishes, they will be forced to follow the laws of the state—even if these go completely against what you wanted. Additionally, everyone experiences grief differently, and even though your child or other loved one knows your preferences, he or she may find ways to subvert them for their own gain. The best way to avoid both of these kinds of drama is to work with an estate planning lawyer in Georgia who knows how to ensure that things go the way you want as a matter of law.
T or F: Trust funds are for more than passing on money.
The answer is true. While we may have certain ideas about trust funds as a result of watching too many movies, a whole lot of people aren’t clear on what they can really do. For example, your Marietta Georgia estate planning attorney can help you set up a trust in order to limit the taxes your estate (and heirs) will have to pay later. They also provide you with a big say in how your heirs are able to use the money—do you want them to have free rein, to pay for an education, or to give the money to charity? These are just some of the ways trusts are often used.
Even if you don’t have a ton of assets, a skilled Marietta estate planning lawyer can help you create a roadmap that will be followed by both the courts and those you’ve left behind. From avoiding probate and excessive taxes to ensuring that your grandkids go to college, working with an estate planning lawyer in Marietta is the first step in protecting what you hold dear.
Want to learn more about estate planning myths? Did you know that when it comes to estate planning, there are 5 RIDICULOUS myths that could cause your plan to crumble and fall apart when your family needs it the most. Whether you already have an estate plan or you have ZERO documents in place, this report will help you identify common myths and mistakes so that you can FIX any problems, make the right decisions and properly safeguard the people and things you love.
BEFORE YOU GO ONE STEP FURTHER WITH YOUR PLANNING…. Download this free special report HERE.
Now that the champagne has been consumed and the party horns have been put away, it’s time to really begin the New Year. You may or may not be sticking to those resolutions you made on January 1st, but even if they are a vague memory at this point, I challenge you to add one more resolution to your list — review your estate plan.
Here’s a checklist to get you started:
- Look for your estate planning documents and see if they are still in the place where you left them. Check your fireproof safe, safety deposit box, or other location where you store the actual documents. In addition, make sure your electronic copies are where you last left them. You may have chosen to keep them on a CD or on your home computer, in any case, make sure they are still accessible. Additionally, make sure your heirs, executor, or trust administrator know where they are.
- Review your children’s long-term and short-term guardian nominations. Has anything happened either in your children’s lives or your guardian’s lives that may make you rethink things? Has the person (people) you’ve named as guardians moved, had a child, divorced, or remarried? If so, does this impact your decision? Have any changes happened that might make you rethink the people you named as short-term guardians?
- Did any of your children turn 18? If so, you need to make sure that they have the proper legal documents in place. They may not have many assets so they may not need a full-blown estate plan, but they will need a signed healthcare power of attorney and living trust in case something happens to them. Without these legal documents in place, you may not be able to speak for them.
- Update, review, or consider a pet trust. If you currently have a pet trust, has anything happened that would make you rethink it? Did something happen to your pet that may mean there are more medical expenses than you thought? Did you get a new pet this year that you want to be sure will be cared for if something happens to you?
- Think through 2014 and list any substantial assets you may have acquired. If you have new assets, make sure they are transferred into your trust. If they aren’t, those assets could end up in probate even though you thoughtfully created a trust to avoid this.
- Review and think about your asset distribution. Does your trust still reflect your wishes for how you would like to distribute your assets? Again, life events such as births, deaths, marriage and divorce may impact the decisions you made about this.
- Check your insurance policies. Does your life insurance still reflect an amount that would support your family if something happens to you? Has something happened in the past year that would require you raise that amount?
- Are you still happy with your decision regarding who should administer your estate? Is he or she still willing to accept this duty? Has anything happened in the last year that would make you wonder whether this person is still able to perform this function? If you are in doubt, you may consider discussing the person you chose and make changes if necessary.
- Update your family’s legacy. Each year you should update your written legacy whether it is in writing or recorded. Be sure to note family member milestones and accomplishments. This will most likely be the most valuable part of your estate plan so be sure to spend time on this.
As I tell my clients, your estate plan is a document that changes just as your life changes. While every change in your life doesn’t mean that you need to update your estate plan, it is important to think through the past year’s events and experiences to make sure that your estate plan will still take care of your family just has you planned.
One of the advantages of marriage over a cohabiting relationship is that a spouse in a marriage is a legal heir, and has a legal right in Georgia to inherit, with or without a will. The only way cohabitants can inherit in Georgia is through a will or through a living or testamentary trust.
Trusts are rights and properties held by one party for the benefit of another. There are many reasons for a cohabitant to enter into a trust agreement. These include maintaining control over assets, avoiding probate, and avoiding inheritance taxes. A testamentary trust is a trust created by a will or a living or an inter-vivos trust document. A testamentary trust does not have the tax advantages of a living will, but does allow the beneficiary to use the property during his or her lifetime. The remaining principal or corpus would go to a second person after the beneficiary’s death. A living trust is a written agreement in which a trustee agrees to hold assets contributed by the grantor for the benefit of third parties or beneficiaries. In some states, but not all, the trustee, grantor, and initial beneficiary may all be the same person. A will or a testamentary trust becomes effective only upon the death of the testator. However, a living trust becomes effective immediately. As long as a living trust is not irrevocable, it can be amended or revoked at any time, and the grantor retains absolute control over the assets transferred to the trust, if he is the trustee. At the time of the grantor’s death, the living trust either becomes irrevocable or it terminates with the trust assets going to designated beneficiaries, or it continues to stay in existence, with the trustee continuing to hold assets for the benefit of the remaining beneficiaries. It is one way to avoid the expense of probate.
There are both disadvantages and advantages to wills and to living trusts. Some of them are as follows:
• Privacy – A will, when it is probated, becomes public knowledge, as do the assets listed under the will. A living trust, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, never becomes public; thus, neither the assets nor terms of the trust become public record.
• Probate – In order to be enforced, a will must go through a form of probate procedure in the court system for which there are fees, usually based on the size of the estate and possibly on the identification of the beneficiaries if they are minors (since guardians may have to be appointed; however, see below). Beneficiaries normally cannot receive the bulk of the assets until probate is completed, which could take a year or more. With a living trust, probate is avoided, and trust assets are distributed almost immediately by the trustee to the beneficiary.
• Complexity – A living trust agreement is more complex in that the assets, while the grantor is alive, must be transferred to the trustee and held in the name of the trust. The trustee is the one who distributes the assets and income and manages the corpus (the body) of the trust. A will, however, takes effect only upon the testator’s death, and is usually less expensive to draft and to change than a living will. However, as stated above, probate is more expensive to hold property.
Another method of estate planning for cohabitants is through joint tenancy, where title to either real or personal property is held jointly. The joint tenants own equal shares and jointly own the property. Each joint tenant may sell his or her one-half interest. However, when one dies, the remaining owner automatically takes over ownership as a right of survivorship.
Tenancy in common is a way for two or more people to hold property. Each has the right to bequeath or sell his or her share of the property to someone other than the co-owners. It is often also easier to sell an interest as a tenant in common rather than as a joint tenant. At the tenant’s death, his interest passes either through his will, through a living trust, or by intestacy.
Each of these Georgia estate planning techniques should be considered by a cohabitant, in that each has its own pros and cons and every case is different. Having no method of estate planning is a disaster for a cohabitant, because the intestacy laws of Georgia will not allow the cohabitant to receive any of the estate. Thus, it is essential for a couple living together to meet with a Georgia estate planning attorney to discuss estate planning, living wills, and durable springing powers of attorney so that they can fully understand their rights and obligations and can deal with these problems in a way that is suited for their personal needs at a time that is not pressured or emotionally chaotic.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As medical malpractice claims continue to rise in the US, more physicians than ever are turning to asset protection strategies to help them avoid financial catastrophe in the face of a malpractice lawsuit.
While nearly every physician is at risk for a lawsuit, there are some doctors who experience legal claims more than most. 3 of the most at-risk medical professions for lawsuits include obstetrics, neurosurgery, and radiology.
The reasons for the high percentage of medical claims in these fields are varied and complicated, but it often boils down to the rate of risk associated with these areas, rather than with lack of skill or professionalism on the part of the physician. Of course, there is case of frivolous lawsuits as well.
Whether a lawsuit against a physician is well-founded or not, it can still cost an incredible amount of time, effort, and money. While it may help to reevaluate laws regarding malpractice litigation, there are more immediate things that doctors can do to protect themselves, and their personal assets, if a lawsuit is filed.
Traditionally, physicians have attempted to protect their assets by setting up living trusts and even placing their property in another person’s name. Now, however, physicians may find the asset protection vehicle they are looking for in a Family Limited Partnership.
Originally created in the early 20th century, the Family Limited Partnership was intended to protect family assets and even to provide tax benefits. It has since evolved into a useful tool for use by physicians who may face lawsuits.
A qualified attorney who is well-versed in the Family Limited Partnership and how it applies here in Atlanta will assist and advise the medical professional on how to set up a structure similar to a family business. Other individuals in the family can be included as general partners. Once property is properly placed into this type of partnership, it generally will not be eligible for use to pay off a lawsuit.
It is necessary that the Family Limited Partnership be meticulously planned and worded, which is why it is especially important to work with an attorney who fully understands how to craft the partnership as it pertains to a physician’s family and unique risks. Choosing an attorney who understands this approach to asset protection and how it affects physicians in Atlanta provides new options that many doctors have not been afforded before.
If you are a physician interested in protecting yourself and your personal assets from lawsuits, call our Atlanta asset protection lawyers at 770-425-6060 and ask to schedule a complimentary Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session with the mention of this article.
Georgia Parents of Graduating Seniors:
Did you know…
Now that your graduating senior is “legally” an adult, you can no longer make important medical or financial decisions on his or her behalf?
UNLESS you have these 3 things in place…… (see below to discover how EASY it is to legally intervene if your child is injured or otherwise unable to speak on his or her behalf!)
Your graduating senior may still be your baby, but in the eyes of the law he or she is now an ADULT!
That means you can no longer make important medical or financial decisions for your child without their permission.
But let’s face it….your job of being a PARENT doesn’t stop just because your child turns 18. If there’s a medical emergency or your child asks for financial help, you NEED the ability to cut through the legal red tape and get involved.
FACT: Doctors, hospitals or financial institutions will NOT bend the rules on this! It’s against privacy laws. You must have 3 KEY DOCUMENTS in place to make important medical or financial decisions on your child’s behalf (just imagine the nightmare of your child getting hurt hundreds of miles away at school and the hospital refuses to give you so much as a status update!).
I call these 3 key documents the Parent Sanity Protection Kit, as they give you the legal permission you need to HELP your child and avoid more gray at the same time!
Advance Health Care Directive
Financial Power of Attorney
To ensure your child is protected before the summer or college starts, you can now receive this critical Parent Sanity Protection Kit just $350 when you call 770.425.6060 and schedule your appointment by June 30th.
P.S. – Graduation Gift for YOU, too, Moms and dads: Mention this blog post and receive a FREE Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session (normally $750) to go over YOUR will, trust or other legal documents! Having an “adult” child is a huge life-change for mom or dad too and your estate planning documents must be updated accordingly!