Go Ahead, Talk Turkey over the Holidays

With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays rapidly approaching, there is a slew of opportunities to gather the family under one roof and get talking. Estate planning and Wills should be part of that discussion. Although it may be tempting to avoid what many consider to be a morbid topic, it’s important to talk to your loved ones so they will know what to do when the time comes.  Communicating openly and honestly with your heirs while you’re still around can help everyone avoid conflict after you’ve passed. Here are eight tips for broaching the sensitive subject with your loved ones.

Be as transparent as possible.

Give your family a heads-up that you would like to discuss your estate plan when you gather.  Have an agenda that outlines the discussion points and circulate it to family members a few weeks in advance to avoid surprises and to allow everyone to mentally prepare for the discussion.

Strategize for any likely sticking points.

You know your family’s internal dynamics.  Maybe your son will be taken aback that his sister was selected as your executor.  Or maybe your daughter will be upset by the details of your advance healthcare directive.  If you predict that something might present a significant issue for a family member, consider reaching out to them to touch on it beforehand so that it doesn’t derail the family meeting.

Avoid holding the meeting at a time when everyone has had a few drinks.

As tempting as it may be to hold the meeting in the evening after the kids have been put down and everyone has a glass of wine in hand, resist the inclination to include alcohol at this meeting.  As we all know, alcohol can amplify peoples’ emotions and exacerbate existing issues.  Pick a time when everyone is fresh, relaxed and sober.

Arrange for childcare.

Keep this meeting an adults-only event so that everyone can participate without the distractions of babies and children.  Perhaps hold the meeting after bedtime or ask the older children to supervise a movie night in a different part of the house.

Don’t immediately dive into the heavy stuff.

Start the meeting with a discussion of a lighter part of the plan.  Perhaps start the meeting by sharing the name of a charitable cause that you have included in your plan.

Prepare your paperwork.

Once you’ve hammered out the details of your estate plan, have the appropriate documents drafted and notarized to cement your wishes before you sit down with your loved ones.  Bring copies to ensure clarity and reduce the chances of misunderstanding your plan.

Set an inclusive tone.

While you should remain firm in your estate planning decisions during this meeting, try to convey that you are welcoming the family to share your vision and goals through this discussion. Try to communicate that every decision was made with their best interests at heart.  If you can get everyone on the same page and openly communicating about the matter from the get-go, you will reduce the risk of disputes later.

Consider inviting a professional to attend the meeting if you feel it would be appropriate.

Depending on your family dynamics, it may be helpful to have an outside expert, such as your financial advisor, estate planning attorney or accountant, help facilitate this conversation, explaining the reasoning and implications of decisions.  Keep in mind that this could possibly make the meeting more of a formal affair than if only family members attend.

All too often, surviving loved ones are left searching for necessary documents, or worse, suffering through expensive legal processes because no estate planning documents were ever created.  Take advantage of the high spirits and cheer of the holiday season to launch this crucial conversation on a positive note.

5 Scary Mistakes People Make When Estate Planning (and How to Easily Avoid Them)

An estate plan is a complex, essential set of legal documents that can offer a person a great deal of financial and emotional security. But, while the estate planning process is far less prolonged and painful than some people fear, there is, like any legal process, no shortage of ways in which someone can stumble when it comes to making their arrangements.  Here are five of the most common (but by no means only) estate planning mistakes to avoid.

You don’t have an estate plan at all.

Approximately 60% of adults don’t have a Will or Estate Plan.  Are you part of the majority?  Perhaps you assume estate plans and Wills are only for the extremely wealthy. Perhaps you are in your 20s or 30s and feel that you don’t need one yet.  Perhaps it overwhelms you so you’d rather keep bumping it to the bottom of your to-do list.  Regardless of your reasons, every adult needs at least a simple Will.

A Will documents your wishes regarding your property and assets, and appoints a legal representative to oversee the process of distributing your estate to your beneficiaries.  If you pass away without a Will (or die “intestate”), the state will appoint someone to decide how your property will be distributed. This could mean that your assets end up in the hands of people other than those you intended. Moreover, the important needs of loved ones that you’ve prioritized may not be addressed. Having a simple Will in place can prevent delay, expense, frustration, and even loss after you pass. More importantly, a well drafted Will provides security for those you leave behind.

You don’t talk to an attorney.

While it isn’t required that you use an attorney to prepare your Will and estate plan, I strongly recommend it, especially if you have significant assets, minor children or a blended family.  Involving an attorney early in the process will ensure that your wishes will be carried out appropriately later down the road. If you opt to go the DIY route, consider having an estate lawyer review the will you created, just to be safe.

Estate planning attorneys have years of experience analyzing clients’ unique circumstances, explaining the ramifications of their decisions, and tailoring documents to address their unique needs and specific objectives.  This experience means that you walk away with a comprehensive estate plan that you know will stand up in court even if it is contested.  Many people find that this peace of mind alone makes it all worth it.

You don’t update your will.

Once they have finalized and signed their Will, many people file it away in a safe deposit box and forget about it. However, there are many reasons to regularly revise your Will and other estate planning documents after you’ve initially sorted it all out.  Every major life change should be reflected in your estate plan.  This includes a divorce, the death of one of your heirs, the birth of a potential new heir, a major change in your financial situation, and significant modifications to your investment portfolio.

You assume that you don’t need a trust.

Many people assume that trusts are reserved for those of extreme wealth, but the benefits that they can offer to someone with even moderate assets can be significant, depending on the individual’s circumstances.  Wills only account for divisions of assets after your passing, but trusts govern the distribution of your assets for an extended period of time.

Since trusts enable restrictions on the timing of asset distribution and conditions for heirs to receive bequests, they can be useful tools to help to care for heirs who are unable to manage their finances, such as minor or special needs child.  They can also be used to shelter certain assets from estate tax or to provide for a surviving spouse or a charity of the grantor’s choosing.

You name the wrong executor.

When crafting your estate plan, a crucial step includes selecting the person who will be responsible for administering your estate and carrying out the provisions of your will.  This person, the executor, will help ensure the timely, accurate distribution of your estate.  Picking the right executor is vital, even if your estate is not large.

Many people appoint a relative or old friend as their executor without much thought. These people usually know us best, so naming a significant other, adult child, or dear friend to fill this role seems like the most logical choice. And often, it probably is.  But other factors should be considered as well.  First and foremost, your executor should be someone that is likely to outlive you.  Beyond that, they should have the time and willingness to handle the responsibilities of executorship.  Ultimately, you want to pick someone who respects your wishes and won’t let their personal feelings about those you’ve named in your will get in the way of executing your estate plan as you’ve intended.  Read more about selecting an executor here.

Estate planning is undoubtedly complex, but a properly prepared plan can save your loved ones a lot of grief and hassle.

Estate Planning Milestones for Parents

There’s no question that having kids changes your life. Naturally, your priorities and responsibilities shift, and this should also be reflected in your estate plan. Here are a few checkpoints
throughout your child’s life when you should recalibrate your estate plan, ensuring that, no matter what, your child is provided for if something were to happen to you.


In the midst of adjusting to parenthood and sleepless nights, crafting an estate plan can easily slip down to the bottom of your to-do list.  Without a doubt, it can be a daunting process.  Many new parents would prefer to avoid thinking about such a grim topic during one of the most exciting times of their lives.  Regardless of how much you’d rather push the matter to the back of your mind, this significant development within your family requires that you update your estate plan (or create one if you don’t already have one in place).

When welcoming a new member of your family into the world, there are two important things to address within your estate plan: the care and custody of that child and the management and distribution of the assets you will leave to them.

For most new parents, writing or revising their will is less about leaving their assets than it is about naming a guardian for their child.  This guardian will assume all responsibility for your child if something happens to you.   They will decide where your child will live and attend school, what type of health care your child will receive, and make other day-to-day decisions regarding your child’s upbringing.  If you don’t name a guardian and a situation arises where your child will need one, the Court will choose the guardian. Because the Court isn’t familiar with your family or your child individually, the person they choose may not be in line with your preferences.

In addition to selecting a guardian, you may also want to set up a trust for your child to preserve your assets for your child when they get older.  This trust could include assets such as your home, your life insurance, your retirement accounts, your savings and investments.  These assets and funds can then be used your child’s education, living expenses, and health care expenses.

Age 5

As your child heads off to kindergarten, you will most likely begin to plan for the upcoming years of schooling and how to lay the best foundation for their future.  You may begin to grapple with
the eventual costs of their education.  When you sit down to plan for their college fund or strategize how to pay for their private education, consider including these plans in your estate plan as well.

There are a few options for how to plan for your child’s education, many parents opt to utilize a 529 plan.   Also known as “qualified tuition plans,” 529 plans allow investment earnings to grow sheltered from federal income taxes.  Withdrawals used to pay for qualified higher education expenses are tax-free.

Age 13

As kids grow up, they organically develop their own relationships with family members and loved ones.  Certain relationships may grow stronger or weaker over time.  Due to these shifting dynamics, it is wise to reevaluate who is named as your child’s guardian when they enter their teenage years.  Does your child have a healthy relationship with the person you’ve designated as their guardian?

Also, consider the general health and circumstances of the guardian you had previously selected.  Have they experienced health complications that might prevent them from performing this role?  Have they moved to another state that would mean uprooting your child if they needed to fulfill these duties as the guardian?  Have they undergone any financial hardships?  As a parent, you know that raising a child is expensive, so consider whether or not this role would strain your chosen guardian’s financial resources.  (Find out more about guardianships)

Age 17

All Wills where a minor will inherit should include a trust to hold and manage the assets until the child reaches the age of majority.  However, when your child approaches adulthood, you may want to reevaluate if you want to give them access to these assets at 18 or later to give them time to mature.   Regardless of how mature your son or daughter may be, they may still fall victim to the bad judgment of others.   There are many potential issues that can put your child’s inheritance at risk, but some of these hypotheticals can be addressed if your plan is updated to take your child’s maturity into account as he or she ages.   (Read more about trusts)

Age 18

Once your child turns 18, he or she is considered an adult.  This means that your son or daughter is legally in charge of their own life now.  If a medical emergency arises, health care providers are no longer authorized to discuss or disclose the details of their condition or care with you.  Nor are you authorized to make medical or financial decisions on their behalf – even if you pay their tuition, cover their health insurance and claim them as dependents on your tax returns. Ensure that you can assist your child with decision-making if they suffer a serious illness or disability by having them sign a Medical Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney before they leave home for college or take the next step in life.

Age 25

Your estate plan should be revisited once your child marries or starts to have kids of their own.   Consider if you would like to include your grandchildren in your plan, and if you would, when they should be added.

Once an estate plan is completed, many people will put it in a safe deposit box and then forget about it.  I encourage you to avoid this “checked-the-box” mentality.  Estate planning isn’t a one-time thing, it’s a lifetime process. Your estate plan should evolve as your life evolves.


Timeshares: Planning for Your Personal Piece of Paradise

A timeshare can be a great opportunity to have a vacation spot every year. It’s your little getaway from the hectic life that comes with living in a city or working long hours at your job. It may be in the Texas Hill Country or a place with a view of the Gulf. It could even be a desert refuge where you can escape the daily grind and recharge. However, you begin to realize as you grow older that escaping to that little slice of paradise isn’t possible anymore due to health issues or a myriad of other situations. What do you do with the property then? How do you pass it on to your children or loved ones? And, what will happen to that timeshare if you pass away?

The short answer is: it’s complicated.

The laws and regulations concerning timeshares vary from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This is why you need to be cautious when determining what to do with your timeshare. We advise you to seek the counsel of a lawyer when dealing with these assets so that you and y
our relatives are protected, regardless of what happens.

In this blog, we’ll review three different issues concerning estate planning and timeshares. First, how do you ensure the timeshare is inherited by your family? The second issue is what happens if you fail to make preparations for your timeshare being passed down. The final issue we’ll discuss is what to do if the family doesn’t want the timeshare that they’ve just inherited.

So, first, how do you ensure that your timeshare is inherited by your family? This depends on a few variables. The first is what type of timeshare it is. There are two different kinds of timeshares. The first is real property. Is your timeshare a home in a fixed location with a deed that outlines what fees and other obligations you must uphold? Or is your timeshare a contract that you pay maintenance and other fees for ‘points’ to use toward any of the timeshare company’s properties?

The second variable is where the property is located. As mentioned earlier, each jurisdiction has its own regulations for handling the transferring of property. You also have to consider the ramifications of how you’ll transfer property because it could affect the amount of taxes your family pays for the timeshare.

When these variables are considered, you have a few choices about how you want to set up your timeshare to be transferred. The first is ‘gifting’ timeshare property to the relative in question. However, be aware that the gift may be subject to a federal gift tax. If the value of the property is greater than $14,000 per donee, you are required to file a gift tax return. You can also gift your relatives a timeshare interest, but they need to be aware that the giftee will have the same tax basis as you in regards to the timeshare interest.

The other method of transferring your property is to declare who will inherit it in your will. In regards to the timeshare interest, this could help your beneficiary save money on capital gains taxes as they’ll receive a step up in the tax basis. But your relatives must be aware that the maintenance fees and other dues you owe for the timeshare simply do not cease when you pass away. The estate or beneficiary will still be responsible for paying what’s due until the end of the timeshare contract.

Finally, you can create a trust or LLC in which to place the timeshare property or interest. This will allow you to continue owning the timeshare while avoiding gift taxes. This transfer will also allow the asset to bypass probate which is helpful if your loved ones wish to sell the timeshare immediately upon receipt or if it is located in another state.

What if the timeshare you want to pass on is out of state and you are not interested in a trust or LLC? We suggest studying the laws regarding timeshares in that jurisdiction or hiring a lawyer local to that jurisdiction to help you determine the best path forward for planning for the future of the timeshare.

Let’s move on to the second issue: what if you fail or forget to make plans for the future of your timeshare before you pass away?

This depends on where the timeshare is located and the probate court involved. It’s not uniform across the nation. Again, we suggest you speak to an attorney about resolving probate issues so that the timeshare may be moved along, instead of sitting in limbo. And, as mentioned recently, the fees and dues associated with a timeshare do not end when you pass away. Even if you forget to plan for the future of your timeshare, your estate is still required to pay the bills on the timeshare until it is transferred to the proper heir or beneficiary.

If you pass away and your timeshare is located in a different jurisdiction, this may require a second probate to determine ownership. The probate court in your area can only control what is within that jurisdiction. Anything outside of it is outside its power. This is why it’s imperative to plan for your timeshare. You can’t just kick that can down the road. It will save your family time and money if you have a plan in place for what happens to your timeshare after you pass away.

As for the final issue: what if your relatives simply don’t want the timeshare?

They have a few options. First, they can sell the timeshare interest or property. However, they need to be aware of any regulations concerning the sale from the timeshare management company. When you first enter into a timeshare, you sign a rather long contract. Part of that contract will likely discuss the conditions for selling the timeshare. Some timeshare companies may require that you discount the interest or property. Others might need it to be sold back to them. Before your loved ones decide to sell, they need to read through that contract to determine if there are any stipulations.

Another issue arises if your relatives cannot afford to keep making the payments required by the contract. The best option they have is to choose not to inherit the property. The timeshare management company will likely, in the end, just recover the timeshare and sell it on to someone else.

When it comes to estate planning for your timeshare, there is a lot for you to consider before determining how to proceed. Obviously, you’ll want to make a plan for the timeshare instead of leaving it up to the probate court in order to save your family the money and anguish of having to deal with that. But, before you do anything else, talk with your lawyer about your options and how they can help you set up your timeshare to be passed along in a way that causes the least friction for your loved ones — it will save everyone time and money in the long run.

Safeguarding Your Digital Afterlife

Our digital lives have become a larger part of our identity since the introduction of the first social media website. We go there to escape from real life and have a place where we can blow off steam, keep track of cultural trends, or meet and get to know people from across the nation. In addition to social media, many people’s daily activities increasingly rely on digital accounts and use computers and personal electronic devices to store important files and documents, such as digital photos and videos, email accounts, financial documents and other important information. However, for many of us, that part of our lives is private. In some cases, so private that we don’t want anyone else to know about it.

What do you do if you don’t want anyone or only a select few to have access to those digital assets?

Previously, we covered what you should do to ensure your family and friends’ have access to your digital assets after you pass away, but, in this post, we’ll talk about how to prevent those from having access.

Now, this is not something you can just request in your will and move on. In most cases, your digital assets cannot be specifically noted in your will with instructions on what access the executor or beneficiary has to each digital account and the desired action for them to take. It’s more that you have to talk with your family about what you want done with your digital assets after you pass away. If you don’t want anyone to access your digital assets after you pass, the terms of service for some online accounts prevent loved ones from having access or provide a path to prevent access.

As you can see as we review some of these different sites, many companies already take steps to ensure your privacy even after you pass away whether you want it or not.


To start, let’s discuss the most ubiquitous social media company in the world: Facebook. The way Facebook deals with deceased persons is allowing them to either create a legacy contact to manage the account or requesting that Facebook deletes the account. If you don’t want anyone to have access to your Facebook account, requesting that Facebook delete the profile is the best way to go about it. Once Facebook is notified that you have passed away, your account will be deleted, preventing anyone from access to your account. The only caveat is someone must notify Facebook.


When it comes to Apple, the company has stated that there are no rights of survivorship. This basically means that when you pass away, any rights to your content and your ID terminate upon your death. It also states that your account is not transferable after you pass away so Apple will not just hand it over if a family member asks for it. At most, family members can request that your account and its contents be deleted if they send Apple a death certificate to verify that you have passed away.


As for Google, they state, “We cannot provide passwords or other login details.” Google will help family members delete an account, but they will not allow them access.


Next, Twitter. From the outset, Twitter states on their website, “We are unable to provide account access to anyone regardless of their relationship to the deceased.” This means that when you pass away, no one will be able to access your account even if they request the password from Twitter. The most an executor or family member can do without the password is request the deletion of the account.


When it comes to LinkedIn, family, friends and coworkers (or, really, anyone) can request that your profile is deleted after you pass away. This is the limit of their actions as LinkedIn will not provide the password to another user’s account. The only option available is the profile deletion request.


What about files you have on Dropbox that you don’t want anyone to access? It is somewhat complicated in that any files you have on Dropbox are also likely located on the hard drive of the computer you use to access the website. If the files are only on Dropbox, the site makes it difficult for anyone to gain access to the account. They must request access and Dropbox reserves the right to decline the request. Along with it, the person making the request needs to provide a court order which grants them access along with the deceased’s name and email, the requester’s name, address, email address and a photocopy of a valid ID.


When it comes to SecureSafe, the online password manager, they have a Data Inheritance program that provides passwords and other information to a designated person upon the death of the user. However, the Data Inheritance program is solely reliant on the passwords the user provides. If a user does not want anyone to have access to a specific website, they simply avoid putting that information into the program.

There are many other digital assets that haven’t been addressed in this article, but a general rule of thumb is, if it requires a password to access it, you should have a plan for it when you’re gone. Determine whether or not you’d like your executor, family or loved ones to be able to access the account after you’ve passed and take steps to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled. At the end of the day, when it comes to protecting your privacy in the digital sphere, many companies have safeguards already in place preventing anyone from obtaining your password. In many cases, should anyone want that information, the company will simply refuse to provide it and require a court order for anyone to have access to your accounts.

The best way, it seems, to protect your privacy is to allow your passwords to pass away with you. Many companies understand your right to privacy and work to prevent anyone from accessing your accounts. This will allow your private life to remain private.

Planning for You and Your Special Needs Family Member

Planning for the future is the best possible way to protect and prepare you and your family for the unknown. If you have a loved one with special needs, the unknown may be something you are familiar with. Structuring a plan for your unique situation will provide the personalized solution that addresses the needs of your family.

Proper estate planning allows you to provide for and protect your loved ones if you become incapacitated or pass away. Your assets are preserved for your beneficiaries, and your estate is distributed according to your plan. An estate plan also lets you communicate your wishes to friends and family.

Planning for a loved one with special needs may be more common than you may think.  Depending on the nature of the person’s limitations and their relationship to you, planning could be for you or them or both.

Since some special needs situations are less obvious than others, let’s start by defining what special needs are. It is a term used for individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental or psychological. There are more than one billion people with disabilities in the world, according to the World Health Organization. That means that about 15% of the world’s population have some sort of disability. What qualifies as a disability is extremely diverse, but usually refers to someone who relies on some sort of assistance on a regular basis. Disabilities can be communicative (blindness, deafness), mental (Alzheimer’s, dementia or a mental or emotional condition that interferes with everyday activities) or physical (require a wheelchair, arthritis, cerebral palsy, epilepsy). But those are just a few examples for each and not every disability requires accommodation or even recognition in your plan.

My goal here is to provide you with some planning strategies involving a special needs family member.

Get Organized

Start by gathering information that you will need to make a plan or to help someone stepping in after the plan to care for you or your family. Some of this information you may already have on hand while other materials may take time and some effort to acquire. I recommend that you designate a folder or filing cabinet where you can store all information pertaining to your plan and let your loved ones know where to look. Forming a comprehensive estate plan along with supporting documents can take time so a central storage place simplifies things for everyone.

Personal Information

Prepare a list that includes you and your loved one’s personal information.  Everything from names, nicknames, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, Supplemental Security Income and Medicare numbers to anything that you think would be helpful for others stepping in to assist Once you speak to an attorney you may learn of other information you should add – but start getting it together on the front end. In addition to a list with all of this information, build a folder that holds copies of birth certificates, insurance policies, social security cards, military service records and any other important documents such as deeds and marriage certificates.

Digital Assets

When gathering personal information, be sure to include a document with information such as logins and passwords to access all of your digital assets. This is an often-overlooked step when planning. You have a lifetime’s worth of online files and accounts that may become inaccessible which causes more stress for your loved ones. Click here to download a worksheet to create an inventory list with all of your relevant files and accounts in one document. This can be a paper document that is stored with all of your other important documents or in a safe deposit box.

Emergency Contacts

Create a list of emergency contacts for both you and your loved ones. At least three methods of contact should be listed for each individual if known, even if some are shared. Include contact information for your spouse, significant other, children, siblings, parents, employer, business partner or key employee if they were not already listed. It’s not easy to think about who would take your place should something happen to you. However, it is a necessary step when planning for a smooth transition should you be incapacitated or have passed away.

Medical Information

Next, put together a list with all of you, and your loved ones’ medical providers and history. This includes names and numbers of primary care providers and specialists, medications, allergies, significant family history if possible, insurance policy numbers, your employer retiree coverage, health insurance, and any Medicaid or Medicare information. Also, note any counselors or an education plan if your loved one is still in school. People with disabilities report seeking more health care than people without. If you are responsible for or have access to your special needs family members medical resume be sure to include it. Should something happen to you, you’ll want whoever takes over to do so with as much ease as possible as not to disrupt care.

Legal Information

If you have a will, powers of attorney, living will, trust or any other estate planning documents store them together and make sure your family or designated decision makers knows where to find them. , This will also make it easier to collect when it is time to review your plan with your attorney to ensure everything is correct and still reflects your wishes.  It is essential to select an experienced estate planning attorney when preparing or updating your estate plan.

Make a Plan

Planning for your special needs loved one is often emotionally difficult.  Before meeting with your attorney take some time to envision how your incapacity or passing may impact your special needs family member.  If you are the caretaker, consider how you want your loved one or child with special needs cared for if you are unable to do so.  If you are not the caretaker, consider whether that may change over time or how an inheritance might affect their current benefits. You can’t plan for everything but by envisioning your wishes and their needs you will be in a better position to determine your options.  Then you can create a plan that will provide for your loved ones and fill in some or all of the gaps. If this seems overwhelming, one way to consider issues is by looking at what you don’t want (for example, don’t leave it up to your children if you will be kept on life support or force a family member to decide where your child will live if you die). By not laying out a plan, you are likely putting someone in a position to manage and make these difficult decisions on their own and possibly without knowing what you would have wanted. The odds that the law and your good intentioned family will bring about the result you desired is minimal.  Worse no plan can leave your special needs family with an inheritance that will hurt them far more than help.

Meet with Your Attorney

After you’ve taken some time to think about the future, sit down with your attorney. Your estate planning attorney should have experience in planning for families with special needs.  This should include familiarity with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and VA benefits at the very least. Your attorney is available to answer your questions and to discuss options some of which you may not have previously considered. Your attorney will draft the necessary legal documents that will express how you want your property, finances, healthcare and care for you and where appropriate your loved one with special needs handled following your incapacity or death. Your attorney can also help you set up financial strategies, such as trusts, to ensure your loved one with a disability can continue to maintain his or her quality of life when you are gone.

Your Plan

You are well on your way to establishing a more secure future for you and your loved ones! All of the following elements of your plan are important and either directly or indirectly affect all of your loved ones.

Letter of Intent

If you are the primary caregiver of minor children or a special needs person of any age, a letter of intent can help manage the difficult transition when you are no longer the primary caregiver. The purpose of a letter of intent is to memorialize your knowledge and desires regarding the needs of your child or loved one so that you can guide future caregivers, guardians and trustees in providing the best possible care. Simply put, this will allow those who come after you to determine the best way to manage and care for your loved one. This can include a general overview of their situation, a daily schedule, food, medical care, education, benefits received, residential environment, behavioral management, social environment and more. It really depends on your individual situation.  This is not a legal document but can work in conjunction with legal documents to provide direction for agents, executors, guardians and caretakers.


A durable power of attorney addresses financial decisions when you are incapacitated. A durable power of attorney is a flexible document that can be used for a single transaction or to give unlimited power over your financial affairs.  It can become effective immediately or only if the named individual becomes incapacitated. This would prevent the named agent from acting on your behalf as long as you are able to manage your affairs on your own.

Health Care

Making arrangements for your health care is crucial in an estate plan. A medical power of attorney determines who will make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated.  A directive to physicans, commonly called a living will, expresses your desires for end of life care.


A  minor child may need a guardian if you are no longer able to care for them.  If their other parent is still living then they will become or continue as the primary caretaker.   An adult may need a guardian if they are incapacitated or disabled, meaning they cannot fundamentally care for themselves. If an adult is substantially unable to provide food, clothing, and shelter, care for their own physical health and manage his or her own financial affairs they are considered an incapacitated person. The adult may be suffering from a physical or even mental condition preventing them from properly caring for themselves and their estate. In the state of Texas, an incapacitated person also includes someone who must have a guardian appointed to receive funds from a governmental source. Learn more here about the Guardianship process.

Special Needs Trust and Your Estate

A Will specifies what will happen to your property at your death. This document among other things directs who should inherit. Because Medicaid and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs impose rules about how much money a person with disabilities can have to remain eligible, your Will or estate plan may need to include a special needs trust. A special needs trust can ensure a quality of life for someone without affecting their ability to receive Medicaid and SSI. It is extremely important to execute this with the help of an attorney to avoid making costly mistakes.

Review & Update Your Plan

I often tell my clients that planning for the future is a process and not a one-time task. As circumstances change for you and your family, it is important to revisit your plan and update it to reflect your current situation.

No one ever said life was easy, and creating a strong estate plan is no exception. Please feel free to contact me or my office if you have any specific questions or if you would like to schedule an appointment.

Tax Season and Estate Planning Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

It’s that time of year again. Whether you do you taxes yourself or get the help of a professional, it’s important to be organized. Sifting through receipts and government forms is just the tip of the iceberg. Tax season is also an excellent time to review your estate plan to make sure everything is in order. You’re already noting any significant life changes in your filing status, so why not apply those changes to all your important documents? Any major adjustments in your life may mean it’s time to update your Will or other estate documents. Below are a few examples that could trigger a review of your estate plan.

Increased Income

Did your salary increase significantly from last year? Lucky you! You may want to consider creating a trust to establish funds for a future purpose such as paying for a grandchild’s education. Trusts can also be used to help support charities or hold that new vacation home. There are a variety of trusts that can fit into an estate plan, even one for your fur babies.

Acquired Assets

Did you finally save up enough money to buy that lake house you always wanted? Make sure you include your new weekend getaway home in your estate plan. If it’s something you’d like to keep in the family for years to come then include it in your Will or consider a Trust. That will ensure that your assets and property will go to the people you want to inherit from you.

Shifted Status

If you filed a joint tax return last year, but now find yourself filing on your own because of a divorce or death, or maybe the reverse because you got married, don’t forget to update your estate plan too. Without proper documents in place, the wrong person could have decision-making privileges if you should become incapacitated or pass away.

Many of the same life changes that affect your tax returns can also impact your estate plans, so now is a good time to review your Will and other documents to be sure they still reflect your wishes.

Caring for Your Aging Parents and Children

A unique situation is on the rise in the United States and could affect you now or in the future. I’d like to discuss the challenges and provide some resources to help you better manage what lies ahead. Let me start with a few interesting statistics, according to recent research.

78.74 years. That is the average life expectancy in the U.S. That number hasn’t changed much in decades.

26.3 years is the average age a woman in the U.S. gives birth for the first time, and that number is steadily increasing.

As the average life span stays pretty consistent and women have children at older ages, it is no wonder people are finding themselves caring for their aging parents while simultaneously raising and caring for their children. There is a term for this; the sandwich generation.

Adults who are part of the sandwich generation have a living parent age 65 or older and are either raising a child under the age of 18 or supporting a grown child. According to a Pew research study,  sandwich generation members are mostly middle-aged: 71% are 40 to 59 years old, 19% are younger than 40 and 10% are age 60 or older (click here for more information on the makeup of the sandwich generation).

If you are a part of this group, you are undoubtedly challenged by the emotional, physical and financial demands of juggling the roles of caring for your own children and your aging parents. The obligations demand considerable time and money. Taking on that responsibility can be difficult and at times overwhelming. With so many people relying on you, it is that much more important that you take the time to carefully plan for the stressors that can come up along the way.

Through this blog, I hope to help you:

  • Set the groundwork for a solid plan
  • Have the tools you need to face an important conversation
  • Prepare for potential crises
  • Put your plan in place for your parents and children with critical estate planning documents
  • Deal with the financial impacts of care
  • Determine how to divide your time between your family and your parents while caring for yourself

For some, you may already be caring for your parents. If you haven’t taken some of the following steps and they still apply to you, get started immediately. I cannot stress this enough. You may already feel like you’re behind, but it’s better late than never to put yourself in a position to succeed. If you are preparing to care for your parents, these tips are equally as important.

Have A Family Meeting

A reliable and thoughtful plan should start with an open and honest conversation. Depending on the age of your children and the mental state of your parents, the discussion can be held separately or together. It can be beneficial to have both parties there if it makes sense. The important thing is to talk about the necessary topics sooner rather than later.

Let’s be honest, no one wants to talk about or believes that they will be too sick or old to care for themselves, but the fact of the matter is, it’s a part of life that needs to be dealt with. If you don’t have the conversation with your parents while they are still in good health and of sound mind, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself unprepared if a crisis occurs. A vague conversation years ago about your mother’s wishes may not be valid anymore. She may have wanted to go into a care facility at some point, but now would prefer to stay home. Or dad may want to be removed from life support now even though he once believed he wanted to fight through it all. It’s not uncommon for siblings to be in a situation where there is no healthcare directive and they disagree over how to handle mom or dad’s health. Empower yourself by being prepared. These are preferences your parents may be unlikely to bring up unless you initiate a conversation. If you simply ask, you’ll be able to have some peace of mind and the ability to honor their wishes.

These are deeply personal and sometimes difficult conversations. Sit down with your parents in a non-threatening and relaxing environment to discuss their preferences. Having your older or grown children present for some of these conversations could allow them to help plan for how they can help if the plan involves home care and so they realize the additional burden you are taking on. Perhaps they will be more understanding and more likely to pitch in. It also doesn’t hurt to prepare them for a similar conversation with you someday.

Plan for Your Parent’s Future

While talking with your parents, you need to cover some specific topics. Make sure they know there are no right or wrong answers. Here are some questions to get the conversation started:

  • What kind of lifesaving procedures would you want performed if necessary?
  • Are there any lifesaving procedures you do not want performed?
  • Who do you want to make medical and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated?
  • Would you rather live in an assisted living facility or have in-home assistance?
  • How will you pay for a nursing home should that be necessary?
  • Are you struggling financially?

Answers to these basic questions will help you take one of most important steps you can take towards helping your parents in the future: making sure their estate plan is up to date.

Every estate plan needs four documents:

  • medical power of attorney appoints a person to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so. A medical power of attorney can also include a list of specific procedures you do or do not want allowed.
  • durable (financial) power of attorney appoints a person to make financial decisions if you are unable to do so. This is a flexible document that can be used to give limited or unlimited power over your financial affairs.  It can become effective immediately or only if the named individual becomes incapacitated. Even if this document is in order, you may still find yourself taking on some of the financial burden of caring for your parents.
  • living will express your wishes for end of life decisions and can appoint a person to make decisions if you are unable.  This document differs from a medical power of attorney because it is only effective if a doctor has determined you have a terminal or irreversible condition.
  • will details your wishes after you pass away. A will allows for a smooth transition for the loved ones you leave behind.  It will designate someone to take control of your estate, care for your dependents, distribute your property and make the transition as painless as possible for your loved ones.

The two especially important things that need to be discussed are executing powers of attorney and taking record of their assets and key documents.

Again, a power of attorney allows a designated person to make decisions on your parents’ behalf regarding their property and health care.  Knowing where key documents and assets are eliminates confusion in the event of incapacity.  Having these two things in place will ease some of the stress. The earlier you have this conversation with your parents the better prepared you will be for the future. It is important to loop in an experienced estate planning attorney early on in the process to make sure you are not leaving any question unanswered and that the documents are executed properly.

Plan for Your Family’s Future

Protecting your family’s needs is always a top priority. Many of the same key documents are required for your estate plan, but a few additional things need to be considered. For example, designating a guardian for your minor children is very important in the event you become incapacitated or pass away. Trust funds, life insurance policies and college funds should also be discussed. If possible, maintain a savings plan while you still have the ability to plug money into it. The future has many what-ifs, but your legal and financial affairs shouldn’t be one of them. Give yourself some peace of mind so you can get back to juggling all the other parts of your life.

Since our lives are constantly changing, I suggest you review your legal documents on a yearly basis or when a major life change occurs, such as a divorce, a death or an addition to the family, to ensure they align with your current circumstances.

Balancing it All

Every situation is different. You may be a single parent with young children, or the sole provider for your parents and your grown children. Whatever your circumstances are, you’ve got a full plate. Every caregiver’s situation is unique but there are always common factors which bridge these situations.

Some of the unique issues that come up for the sandwich generation can include:

  • Dealing with the financial impact of caring for your parents while caring for your own family
  • How to protect your emotional health


Assessing your financial situation is imperative.  Hopefully your parents are open and honest about their current financial status. Perhaps, your parents have prepared for the future and have adequate resources for their care.  In other cases, they don’t have enough resourses and may already be in a bad situation financially. If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Older people can have a difficult time opening up about their finances. Here are some things to look out for to identify a financially bad situation:

  • Calls from creditors
  • Forgetfulness when it comes to financial matters
  • Unopened mail

If your parents have the funds to cover their care, make sure you or the durable power of attorney sticks to the plan that you have laid out. If you are not one of the lucky few that have it all covered, I suggest you explore taking these steps to ease the financial burden:

  • Assess your financial resources. You can’t plan if you don’t know your assets, liabilities and cash flow.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of the costs and available assets.
  • Make a plan to cover the costs. This could include cutting back on certain expenses and investments.
  • Tap into your family’s resources, such as having siblings and anyone else involved chip in and lend a hand.
  • Investigate the options that exist for assistance, such as Medicaid, Medicare and VA benefits

Throughout the process of figuring out how to financially cover the care for you parents, it’s important to factor in the needs of your own family. Caring for so many people can be costly. You may have to sit down as a family and decide which expenses are necessary and which can be eliminated. Having everyone involved and on the same page can help relieve some of the financial burden. For example, if you have a recent college grad who is searching for a job and living off your buck, it may be time for them to seek part-time work.

Emotional Health

While having all of your documents and finances in order is great, don’t forget to look out for your own emotional wellbeing. Taking care of everyone should not come at your expense. Here are some general tips for making sure you don’t get lost in the mix:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have a solid support system with family and friends, they will be likely to step in and help.
  • Use the assistance of resources in your area, such as support groups or connections through your church.
  • Take the time to do things you enjoy. Listen to music, take a long bubble bath or go out to dinner. You can still have fun despite your many responsibilities.
  • Don’t neglect your relationships.
  • Stay in tune with your body. Keeping yourself healthy is important for keeping everything on track.

Remember, if you are squeezed into the sandwich generation, you are not alone.

Professional Help

Getting assistance from the right professionals to help guide you through the legal and financial planning can really save you money and frustration in the long run. An experienced estate planning attorney, a certified financial planner and a therapist can work wonders.

Final Thoughts

You may have read this article and thought about how you are not as prepared as you thought you were. Taking these steps can certainly help you be prepared for the “unknown.” If you have any questions about your unique situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

No Will. Now What?

February is a month notoriously marked by love and romance. While many people are struck by cupid’s arrow, others think Valentine’s Day is just a scheme created by greeting card companies to make a buck. Regardless of your stance, there’s no denying that your loved ones deserve nothing but the best.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, leaving a Will is one of the most generous and thoughtful gifts you can give. While you may not exactly want to present your Will over a candlelit dinner, this time of a year is an excellent reminder that taking care of your loved ones long after you’re gone is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.

As a reminder, a Will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and the care of any minor children. To ensure that your wishes are carried out and your loved ones are cared for, you want a Will in writing. Simply put, a Will simplifies the process for your heirs. A properly executed Last Will and Testament assures that your property passes to the loved ones that you choose. Since a Will is a legal document, it should be prepared and reviewed by a qualified Estate Planning Attorney.

What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

When you die without a Will, an already difficult time can become a complicated legal situation for your loved ones. The term for dying without a Will is called “intestate.” Dying intestate will then Close-Up Of A Senior Woman Thinkingtrigger a chain of events that are defined in the Texas Estates Code.  Intestate laws vary state by state, but they generally follow the same path to determine who the heirs will be.

We take estate planning very seriously at our firm and work hard to provide the community with thoughtful and useful legal information. That is why I want to be clear, you are not required by law to have a Will.  It’s also an extremely easy task to put off. I get it, the days get busy and the years go by without the topic coming up. Many people believe you should be a member of AARP or be wealthy before you put a Will in place. But that’s just not the case. Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, you should consider creating a Will.

Most Common Reasons Texans Die Without a Will

As an estate planning attorney, I’ve heard every excuse in the book. The most common reasons Texans fail to take advantage of their ability and right to leave a Will, controlling the distribution of their assets are:

  • Lack of Property: Even if you have little to no property, it still has to be dealt with after your passing. Without a Will, no one has the authority to make decisions, thus making the process more stressful for those you leave behind.
  • Lack of awareness or Indifference: According to an AARP survey, 2 out of 5 Americans over the age of 45 don’t have a will. Creating a will is extremely important to take care of your loved ones.
  • Complexity: Drafting a Will does not have to be complicated. Most Wills are very straightforward.
  • Time and Effort: Meeting with a skilled estate planning attorney in person a couple of times may be all that is needed to put your Will into place. Follow-up calls can clear up any loose ends. In the end, the time spent is a good investment.
  • Legal Fees: The cost of hiring an estate planning lawyer and ensuring you have a legally sound Will is worth it. It also can prevent family confusion and squabbles.
  • Admission of Mortality: It’s hard to come to terms with the idea that you won’t be here someday, but life goes on and leaving a Will makes it easier on those you leave behind.
  • Reluctance to Reveal Private Information: Any information discussed with an attorney remains confidential.

Many people are naïve about the critical importance of a Will. A Will allows you to determine who gets anything from pets to property. It also allows you to name a legal guardian for your children if they are minors.

What Happens to My Minor Children If I Don’t Leave a Will?

If you are a parent, especially of minor children, you probably prioritize being a parent as one of, if not, the most important job you have. It is your role to ensure your children are safe, healthy and loved. If you failed to put your wishes into writing before you pass, your children’s care will be as the state sees fit. This can be very stressful for your children and result in some unsettling situations where children are split up or they end up with someone whom you never would’ve chosen. The state may prioritize location, lifestyle or relationship. There is no single rule for how it could go. There are so many possible outcomes for your children if you fail to properly plan ahead for them. For that reason alone, preparing a Will is especially important.

So How Will the State of Texas Handle the Distribution of My Estate?

If you die without a Will, the State of Texas essentially creates one for you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “my family knows what I would want.” While I encourage open conversations about your wishes with family and loved ones, it’s not enough to ensure your wishes are carried out. If you are a resident of Texas and die without a valid Will, your property will be distributed to your heirs as determined by Texas law. Your assets will be distributed according to a statutory formula that doesn’t take into account your wishes or unique circumstances.

Let me put this into perspective with a quick fictional story about a woman we’ll call Gloria. Gloria was diagnosed with cancer and eventually became too ill to care for herself. She lived in her own home and preferred to stay there as her health worsened. Since none of her children were willing to move in and care for her, her grandson Eric stepped in. As an expression of her gratitude, Gloria promised him that he would get to keep her home and rather large savings after she passed. As Gloria was dying, her daughter drained her bank account and evicted Eric from the home. Unfortunately, she passed away without ever putting her wishes into writing. Despite making her plans clear to many people, there is nothing that can be done. In this scenario, Gloria did not have a spouse and was survived by all her children. The state determined that Gloria’s property would be divided between her children. This could have all been avoided if she had left a Will ensuring Eric would get her home and money. This story illustrates just how the State of Texas could handle a unique situation like this.

Your promises mean nothing in the real world without a clearly stated legally sound document. The law supports and gives you the freedom to decide how and to whom your assets are distributed when you die by making a Will. Without that Will, the State of Texas handles the distribution in a variety of ways.

The Deceased is Married

You would think that if you are married and die without a Will, that your spouse inherits your entire estate. That may not always be the case. The division of property at that point is dependent on whether it is

Community Property

Simply put, community property refers to most property acquired during the marriage.

  1. If you are survived by a spouse and children, your surviving spouse in most cases will receive the community property if all your children are also of your surviving spouse.
  2. Otherwise, if you have children from someone other than your surviving spouse, your children can receive your half of the community property while your spouse will only retain their own half.

Separate Property

Separate property is typically property acquired before marriage. It can also be property acquired during marriage by gift, devise, or descent. Property received by devise or descent is property received from the estate of a person who has died.

  1. If your property is characterized as separate and you have a surviving spouse and children, your spouse could receive 1/3 of your separate property and a life estate. A life estate is an estate limited in duration by life. In other words, they would have the right to use your separate property until his or her own death.
  2. If you are survived by parents and siblings, they can receive half of your half of your separate property, while the other half could go to your spouse.
  3. However, if you have no children or other descendants, your surviving spouse is usually entitled to all your separate property.

The Deceased is Single and Doesn’t Have Children

If you are not married and do not have children, the state looks to parents, siblings or other relatives on either side of the family to find a qualifying heir. If someone dies and leaves behind no surviving heir, the estate would go to the State of Texas.

The Deceased is Unmarried and Has Children

You may notice a trend from above. The state code prioritizes the descendants by closeness in the family tree. If you are single and have children, then in most cases all your property would go to them and their descendants. If all your descendants share the same level of relationship (meaning all are either your children or grandchildren) then they can receive equal shares. However, if the descendants have different levels of relationships (for example, if some of your children predecease you, leaving children or grandchildren of their own), then the younger generations would only be entitled to the share the older generation would have received had he or she survived.

Unique Situations and Other Questions

No two families are the same. While the state qualifies inheritance without a Will quite clearly and specifically (as seen above), there are still many alternative scenarios that come up.

What About My Stepchildren?

I have been asked many times about how stepchildren play into all of this. Let’s say you love your stepchildren like they are your own. Or you have acted as a mother or father to them nearly all their life. They will not automatically inherit from their stepparents under Texas law if you don’t create a Will. If you want to guarantee your stepchild benefits from your estate, of course, I advise you to put it into a Will.

What if the Heir Is a Non-Citizen?

According to common law, a non-citizen cannot acquire real property. Real property, also referred to as real estate, is any property attached directly to land as well as the land itself. On the other hand, if they come from friendly countries they could acquire and transmit personal property.

Does Is Matter How Big My Estate Is?

If your property and assets are less than $100,000, in many cases no formal court proceeding is required. Family members can file a Declaration of Small Estate and then are allowed to collect and split the deceased’s assets.

What Can Your Family and Loved Ones Do Now?

There are not a lot of options for your family if you die without a Will. By not leaving a Will, you inevitably cause difficulties for those you leave behind, at a time when they are likely already distressed. They will likely have to go through a lengthy legal process that involves time and money for them to help determine who will gain power over your estate. If a Will had been prepared, this process would be unnecessary.

There is no way I can address every possible outcome if there is no Will left, if you have any specific questions about your case, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.

I cannot stress the importance of creating a Will enough. I hope this article is useful for those who are dealing with a death with no Will left behind. I am also optimistic that this information will reassure anyone who is without a Will to seriously consider putting one together. This is done best with the assistance of an Estate planning lawyer to ensure you’ve taken the proper steps. I encourage you to check this crucial task off your to-do list sooner rather than later. You never know what tomorrow holds in store.

A Complete Guide to Selecting the Right Executor, Trustee or Agent for you

02C29763It’s hard to believe 2017 is here already. The new year marks a special time when many people both reflect on the past and plan for the future. Whether you are a planner or not the setting of New Year’s resolutions is a tradition many people observe much like eating black-eyed peas or kissing someone at midnight. The standard resolutions are getting organized or in better physical shape.   This year consider adding estate planning to your list of resolutions.  Estate planning is a task that is easy to always put off until later or next year.  Estate planning requires you to think of the unpleasant and acknowledge that we don’t know what tomorrow holds in store. You are likely to find, your estate plan will allow you to face the future knowing you have taken steps to protect, provide and plan for yourself and your loved ones lending some certainty to the uncertain future.

One of the most important decisions you’ll make is selecting who will control your assets during your incapacity or after you’re gone. That means the executor of your will, the trustee of any trusts you set up and the agent for your power of attorney. No matter how thorough your estate plan is, choosing the right person or combination of people to carry out your wishes is essential. Start by understanding the responsibilities of each role and then consider who can best fill your shoes in that situation.

Executor Responsibilities

The executor or administrator’s role is to ensure that the terms of a person’s Will are followed or if no Will exists to ensure the estate is transferred in compliance with state law. The law requires an executor or administrator because someone must be responsible for the following:

The Will can also impose duties not required by law, such as choosing beneficiaries, distributing personal property or naming guardians for minors. The executor encompasses many roles, including the overseer, manager, distributor and possible peacemaker in the execution of your estate plan. While it is crucial to select the right executor to see your plans through, they can hire professionals to help them with some matters.

Choosing an Executor

Don’t expect to Google “Who is the best executor?” and get one result. There’s no consensus, even among lawyers, on who makes the best executor. The reason there is no one size fits all answer is the job of the executor depends entirely on your circumstances. Some people choose to have a professional executor while others prefer family or friends and some find a combination of professional and non-professional to be the answer.

Appointing a professional executor is done for many reasons including no close living family members, discord between family members, to ensure there is no conflict of interest and the estate is more complicated than the abilities of the closest family members to name a few. Professionals don’t stand to gain under the Will beyond their fees. It could be a lawyer, a CPA, a bank or trust company. In some cases, this can prevent a Will being contested by disgruntled relatives who may be concerned about their family members cheating or mishandling things in some way. Another reason to choose a professional executor is if you don’t want to put the burden on family who may be incapacitated with grief or you simply don’t know of anyone that may be up for the job. Keep in mind; it could take years to carry out of all of the requirements and procedures. If you have a large or complex estate, it might be wise to hire someone, such as a professional executor.

If you don’t want or need a professional executor, family members and friends who have demonstrated they are trustworthy, mature, honest, conscientious and good with people are excellent candidates. Some people find comfort in knowing that a spouse, child or friend is managing their estate once they are gone. They feel these individuals will be more invested in making sure the probate process goes as quickly and as smoothly as possible. Remember, they can always hire some outside help if it gets too complicated. Another factor to consider is where someone lives. Many estates can be managed from a distance with no difficulty but that is not always the case.  If you believe your estate will require someone to be in the area for a prolonged period, you may want to choose a person who is local, retired or has a very flexible job.  In some cases, an executor may need to spend significant time working with the courts in the deceased’s area. Appointing someone who lives in the same city or with the ability to remain in the city may be wise. Consulting with your attorney on your selections will help ensure you have considered many of the ramifications of your choice.  This is particularly important if you plan on naming someone that lives out of state so you can consider the impact on management of your estate.

Ultimately, it is essential to choose an executor who is willing and able to do the job. It can be helpful to speak with the individuals before naming them to discuss the responsibilities involved. Be honest about the amount of work involved. A good executor can mean the difference between a complicated and drawn out probate process and a timely distribution of assets. Most importantly, selecting the right executor can provide the peace of mind that is needed during a difficult time.

Duties of a Trustee

If you create a trust, you must designate a person or institution to manage the trust that position is the trustee. A trust is merely a contract between the person who formed the trust, called the grantor (you), and the trustee. If your will leaves assets to a trust then the executor will transfer those assets to the trustee for management and distribution according to the terms of the Trust.  It is possible for the executor and trustee to be the same person.

The trustee acts as the legal owner of trust assets, and is responsible for handling any of the assets held in trust, tax filings for the trust, and distributing the assets, in accordance with the terms of the trust. They are obligated to follow your instructions and to manage the trust in a reasonable manner. Unlike an executor, (whose duties may be completed within months), a trustee’s duties can continue for generations.  This is one of the reasons why the biggest decision when designating a trustee is whether to use a family member or a professional trustee.

Naming a Trustee

Any person may serve as your trustee, provided the person is legally competent, meaning over 18 years of age and capable of managing his or her own affairs. Just like an executor, a trustee should be someone who is trustworthy, mature, honest and conscientious. In most cases, it is important to have a certain amount of financial savvy to understand the complexities of a trust.

If you don’t know anyone who meets these qualifications, you might want to consider using a professional trustee. This can be a bank or trust company, a professional trustee, an investment advisor or manager, an investment banker, an accountant or a lawyer. While it is not required to have experience in managing a trust, it may be a factor that you find important. Keep in mind, this option does come with a price tag that will be higher or that may not exist for family or friends.

It is common for people to name a family member to serve as a trustee. Typically, family members have an added personal investment to see the trust through with success. They also may be willing to work without a fee or at least a lower fee than a bank or trust company. If you don’t foresee any family conflicts and know someone who is willing to take on the responsibilities, this might be your best option. When choosing family or a friend, you’ll need to consider who the successor would be in the event that they become incapacitated or die.

There is a third, often popular choice if you are nervous putting all of the responsibilities on a family member or are uncomfortable letting a stranger manage it. Some people find benefits in combining both options. You can choose a family member and a professional trustee as co-trustees or name one as trustee and the other as trust protector.

Regardless of who you choose, it is wise to reevaluate your decision every few years to ensure your decision today is still your best option down the road. It helps to have an attorney present to help you weigh your options.

Role and Purpose of an Agent

Another important document you should consider adding to your estate plan is a Durable Power of Attorney. If you become incapacitated, you need someone to act on your behalf to make financial decisions for you. If you become incompetent or incapacitated without preparing this document, your family will not be able to make important financial decisions or pay your bills.  Perhaps more importantly, the person of your choosing might not be the person the court will choose to take action on your behalf.  The person/s given the power to act on your behalf is called the agent.

A Durable Power of Attorney appoints an agent to handle legal and financial responsibilities. It can go into effect immediately or once you become incapacitated. Once it is active, the agent makes decisions including paying your bills, collecting income, filing taxes, and any other powers granted in the document. This is a very flexible document that can be used for a single transaction or to give unlimited power over all of your financial affairs.  Without this, your loved ones will find themselves in court requesting the authority to manage your financial affairs.

The Durable Power of Attorney allows you to be prepared for an unexpected accident or illness as well as issues that come with aging causing you to have trouble handling certain aspects of life. The Durable Power of Attorney can be customized to fit the needs of your situation. Ultimately, it is up to you. This is best done with the assistance of an estate planning lawyer to ensure your wishes are made clear.

Selecting an Agent

It is always difficult to picture a time when you can’t make financial decisions for yourself. But if something unexpected were to happen, you’d want someone you can rely on taking control. When an agent acts on your behalf, they must act with care, competence and diligence. Ultimately, they must have your best interests at heart. Consider someone who shares the same religion or beliefs as you. An agent should be someone who you believe has the capacity to take on great responsibility in a possibly troubling time. Other factors to consider are maturity, trustworthiness and overall wisdom. An agent is given a great deal of power, so many factors can affect your decision. If you don’t have a family member or friend suited for the job, you can use a professional agent. A proposed agent has the right to decline to act as an agent, and a current agent has the right to resign for any reason.

A Common Thread

An executor, trustee and agent all have their unique functions in your estate plan. Each has specific roles and responsibilities that could affect you and your loved ones for many years. Their jobs are very different but one thing is clear across the board, choosing the right person for the job is essential. Now that you know what will be required of each role, you can make a more informed decision about who you know and trust to manage these important aspects of your assets or estate. With the right people in place, your wishes are more likely to be honored.

Taking the time and attention to make a plan can be the best decision you ever made. An estate planning attorney can help you with your estate planning New Year’s resolutions, and help to ensure your family’s needs and goals are met.