Commit to Your Estate Plan Before Committing to a Trip

Putting your affairs in order with an estate plan will make for a smoother transition to the loved ones you leave behind.  This is especially important if you plan to travel. Before you hit the road or jet set away this summer, make sure you’ve got these essential documents in order.  The preferred ending to your trip is a return home with some new wonderful memories.  However anything can happen while traveling, and being prepared will prevent your family from facing additional stress winding up your estate in the event of a tragedy.

An estate plan should include at least these four key documents:  will, medical power of attorney, durable (financial) power of attorney and a living will.  However, there are many other documents that may address the specific needs of your situation.

Must Haves

A properly executed Last Will and Testament assures that your property passes to the loved ones that you choose. The preparation of a will can be accomplished simply by writing it in your own handwriting and signing it, but it is safer to use an attorney to draft your will and supervise its execution.

Durable (Financial) and Medical Power of Attorney
Powers of attorney allow you to name who should handle your finances and make medical decisions if you are unable. Furthermore, there are separate documents for financial and medical decisions so that you can easily name different people for these tasks if you wish.

Directive to Physicians (Living Will)
Directive to Physicians is the Texas document known as a living will. The purpose of a living will is to provide direction to medical professionals and loved ones on the type of care you wish at the end of your life. A list of specific procedures that should or should not be performed can be included. A person can be named to make decisions for you if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

Other Important Documents for Specific Needs

  • Declaration of Guardian in Advance of Need (Adult Guardianship)
  • Appointment of Guardian (Child’s Guardianship)
  • Organ Donation
  • Disposition of Remains
  • Trusts

Read more here on how to plan ahead.

Estate Planning for Millennials

60431b1a424c6524e5e2b71e2fdae3f9If you consider yourself a Millennial then you are a part of the largest generation in history with over 80 million people. Many of you tend to “live in the moment” and are holding off on milestones such as marriage, children, and home ownership.  But what about planning for your future? Even if you don’t think you need an estate plan, chances are that you do. Below are 3 questions you can ask yourself to see whether or not it’s time to start creating an estate plan.

Would You Go Skydiving Without Signing a Waiver?

Many Millennials are thrill seekers and love the rush of doing something risky. Traveling the world, skydiving or bungee jumping are all exciting adventures, but having a Will in place may come in handy just in case something should happen. Many people believe that creating a Will is a complex process, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether or not you are waiting to own a home or acquire assets, you need to create a Will to avoid chaos after you pass away. Creating a Will lets you plan ahead to protect and provide for the people you leave behind.

Who Will Look After Fido?

Millennials are waiting longer to become parents but haven’t wasted any time becoming guardians to furry friends. Do you realize that sweet Fido might not be protected if something tragic occurs? Many laws view pets as property and if there aren’t proper plans in place, your fur baby might not end up with the person you choose. To read more about the different options that are available for estate planning for pets, click here.

social-media-icons-for-blogs-2-2Who’s Going to Update Your Status?

Millennials have grown up in the digital age which has made you fast adapters of technology. Updating social media, sending emails, and checking online accounts have become second nature. What happens to your lifetime of online files and accounts if you suddenly pass away? Luckily you can protect all of these digital assets by including them in your estate plan. Click here to read more information on how to protect digital assets.

There are many other decisions that you should consider when creating an estate plan, but these questions can help you see the importance of planning for your future. You can still “live in the moment” while protecting yourself and your loved ones.

Prince’s Estate Quandary: Not a Walk in Paisley Park

PrinceWhile the country still mourns the loss of music icon and pop superstar Prince, news reports continue to surface that there’s still no trace of his Will. While the search continues, the court has appointed Bremer Trust as special administrator during the proceeding.

Tyka Nelson, his sister, came forward with the original petition for the appointment of a special administrator for the estate and also listed five half-siblings as heirs which could further complicate things. In Minnesota, half-siblings are treated the same as full siblings which could turn the distribution of Prince’s assets and estate into a full blown family battle.

The goal of an estate plan is similar for most people: divvy up your stuff and give it to the people you love the most. But when blended families plan for their future an extra layer of complexities are added. Every state has different rules about the rights full and half siblings have in the probate process. Don’t you want to eliminate the risk of family drama after you’re gone?

The bottom line is whether you are a rich celebrity or an ordinary middle-class person; you have to create a Will to avoid chaos after you pass away. Creating a Will lets you plan ahead to protect and provide for the people you leave behind and serves as a guide so they can follow out your wishes. It’s important to talk to an attorney to create a plan that meets the needs of every unique family situation.

Other Famous People Who Died Without a Will

Many people find it hard to believe that Prince passed away without a Will, but according to a 2015 Rocket Lawyer Survey, 64% of the total American population doesn’t have a Will. The majority of the people surveyed confessed that they simply hadn’t found the time to create one. If you fall into this category, it’s probably a good idea to dedicate some time to protecting your assets. If not, important decisions will be left up to the law rather than in the hands of your loved ones.

Here are a few more celebrities who did not plan ahead:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Bob Marley
  • Howard Hughes
  • Pablo Picasso

Beware the April Fools’ Jokes

free-vector-april-fools-day-cardIf you watched the news, checked your Facebook, or listened to the radio this morning you’ve probably been inundated with pranks, gags, and a slew of fake products in honor of April Fools’ Day. Today is the one day it’s acceptable to put a whoopee cushion under your coworker’s chair or fill the salt shaker with sugar. Over the years, some companies have gone to great lengths to create the perfect April Fools’ prank. Here are a few of our favorites:

Wonder Woman’s Invisible Plane

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum moved the Spirit of St. Louis and SpaceShipOne to display Wonder Woman’s invisible plane in the museum’s Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

How to Cook a Unicorn

The British Library announced a miraculous discovery of a long-lost medieval cookbook that included a recipe for how to cook a unicorn.

Selfie Shoes

Miz Mooz announced new “Selfie Shoes,” which hold smartphones and let users snap portraits with a wiggle of their toe.

Chances are you’ve been involved with some sort of April Fools’ Day prank in your lifetime. But do you have any idea where the tradition of making fools out of people came from? One of the most common theories is that during the 1500s Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bill changing all calendars to start the new year on January 1st rather than April 1st. The people who forgot to change their calendars and attempted to celebrate New Year’s on April 1st were teased and called ‘April Fools.’

Although I don’t see New Year’s Day changing anytime soon, you still can get fooled by your estate plan if you’re not careful. This April Fools’ Day, make sure you and your family are protected and talk to an attorney to ensure your estate planning documents are updated.

Does Your Will Address Property Ownership?

Thanks to the incredible weather, spring has come early this year and “For Sale” signs have begun lining neighborhood lawns. Purchasing a new home is an exciting and hectic time for couples which can often times lead to the failure of proper estate planning. Woman moving

If tragedy were to strike, and you or your spouse passed away, what would happen to your home? Most people assume that the living spouse automatically takes full ownership of the home, but this may not be the case.

In Texas, any property purchased during a marriage is equally owned by both spouses and each person has a right to dispose of their half in whatever way they see fit. If one person passes away, the living spouse may not take full ownership because of terms in a Will or the statutory order of inheritance without a Will.

While a Will is the best overall course of action, in some cases including a transfer on death deed to the plan is a wise choice. This deed will transfer title of the property to the surviving spouse or other designated person without having to go through the probate process.

An estate plan is more than just a Will. Estate planning attorneys have an arsenal of tools at their disposal to help craft an estate plan to fit your needs and desires.

To read more about a transfer on death deed click here.

Six Personal Finance Tips for Happy Couples

4b3d63d7-c5bd-42b6-97eb-bfe5b14588aaLove is in the air with Valentine’s Day just around the corner! The stores are filled with typical gifts like flowers and candy, and restaurants have already started booking up. If you don’t feel like dealing with the crowds and want to spend Valentine’s Day doing something that will have a lasting effect on your relationship, why not plan an evening of financial planning? This year give your loved one the gift that not only says ‘I love you’ but also ‘I want us to have a secure future together.’

Here are six personal finance tips to keep every couple happy this Valentine’s Day and for many more to come.

Be involved
It’s important that both of you are involved in setting goals, budgeting, saving, and investing. Many arguments can be avoided by simply having both spouses take ownership of their financial situations.

Make a Plan
The best way to achieve a goal is to create a written plan and then put it in motion. The two of you should build a short-term and long-term plan. Try to figure out what future expenses may be and start saving for those needs.

Plan for the Worst
Life is full of unexpected scenarios so make sure you are prepared to the best of your ability. Having a life insurance policy or disability insurance can help alleviate some of the hardship.

Utilize Social Security
Maximize, maximize, maximize. The age you decide to start taking social security can have a major impact on your benefits so it’s critical that you maximize your full benefit potential, or, at least, understand the cost if you must take benefits early.

Make Educated Decisions
Make sure you and your spouse research before investing instead of picking a random stock option on a whim. Consider working with a financial planner to get another viewpoint.

Create an Estate Plan
As much as you plan, you never know what life will bring. Don’t leave important decisions up to the state, take the time to create an estate plan so your loved ones are protected.

Debbie Cunningham has an extensive network of financial service and insurance professionals to assist with any of the non-legal steps.

A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

It’s that time of year when everyone makes a list of resolutions and goals to better themselves. Many resolutions are focused on fitness, finances, or changing unhealthy habits, but by the time February rolls around almost everyone is back to their old ways. Wouldn’t you like to make a resolution that is worth sticking to this year?

Your loved ones are at the heart of every decision you make so take the time this year to ensure they are protected for the future. Below is a brief checklist to help guide you through the basic documents you and your family need to be prepared for any unexpected crises. If you would like to download the full checklist, click here.

Checklist 5

Happy Holidays- 2015

As we wrap up Thanksgiving and move into Christmas, I am reminded of what makes the holidays special.  For me, it is always family and friends. My family, like many of yours, has experienced both the joy of new family members and the loss of others. As I work to complete my holiday shopping and finalize my business plan for next year, I wanted to share some of this year’s highlights with you.

My husband and I have a blended family with six children. All six are married or in committed relationships and some have children of their own. I look forward to the joy of grandchildren at Christmas.  Like many of you, my December is also filled with celebrations of friends, colleagues and the organizations I am involved with.

As I look back over this year, I am reminded of the great clients it has been my pleasure to work for this year. The year saw the return of previous clients bringing new business. Additionally, I have been honored to receive many client referrals and that is the greatest compliment any service provider can receive.
I hope your holiday brings you the joy of family and friends!



Planning Tips for the Organizational Genius…And the Rest of Us

One of the most important things you can do to assist those you leave behind is to make sure all of your affairs are in order – and I’m not even talking about your legal documents.  While having all of your estate planning documents in order is an important component to providing an easy transition for your loved ones, there are five other matters that should be addressed to provide your loved ones with a peaceful, stress-free, harmonious probate process.

Funeral and Burial Instructions

Some clients discuss their wishes regarding their burials with me, but I am not the person who most needs to know because it is unlikely that I will be the one handling the funeral arrangements.   You should document your detailed wishes and let the people most likely to be handling your funeral know where to find the information.  This can be as simple as a letter or list provided to your family.  It may also include prepaid arrangements with the funeral home of your choosing.   Your family will thank you for it and it will also allow them to deal with their grief, not the details of your funeral.

List Your Closest Family Members, Friends and Employer or Business Associates

Prepare a list with names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your closest family members and friends.  You will also want to include contact information for your employer or business associates.  I recommend you complete this list and then review and update it annually.  This will allow your family to quickly and easily make the required notifications.  Otherwise your family will be left with the job of having to track down the contact information for those dozens of people who need notification. They may also miss an important notification because they are unaware of or unable to locate an important person.

Instructions to Your Executor / Successor Trustee

This one can be more challenging because you may not need to provide the same level of detail for all potential executors or trustees.  Your surviving spouse may not need any information or only some general guidelines or contact information but a child or third party will need to know who handles your legal, tax, and financial affairs.  They may also need to know any overriding principals you want applied for distribution of your estate or other assets.  They will need to know what assets you have and where they are held. I recommend you prepare for the person who may need the most information or assistance because it is easier for the person who doesn’t need it to skip past than for the person without the knowledge to locate it.

Organized Asset Information

You can have an outstanding set of estate planning documents customized for your family, but if your loved ones do not have detailed records of what you own and what you owe, you will leave them with a frustrating, never-ending headache that can delay distribution of your estate.  While it can be tedious to create and maintain a list of assets and liabilities, this list will better position your executor to wind up your estate quickly and less expensively.

Letter To Your Heirs and Other Family Members

A letter of this nature while difficult to write can be the difference between a contested and an uncontested probate.  The issues you need to address will be personal to the terms of your will and the relationship you have with each of your loved ones.  The issues commonly addressed include an explanation for who is selected or the order of selection for guardians for minor children or why the estate is divided in the manner outlined.  You may want to include explanations for who is named as the executor and guidelines for distributing personal property especially family heirlooms.  This is also a time to leave a final message to them.  For some one open letter to everyone is the right choice.  For others sealed personal letters to each loved one is the better choice.

Getting started on these five other matters will ease the burden on your loved ones when you pass away.

Estate Planning Tips for People Under 40

Closeup of happy couple at homeIt is a common misconception that estate planning should happen after you have retired and have accumulated significant net worth. However, it is much better to be prepared before you are ‘over the hill.’ A proper estate plan provides your family with protection if the unexpected should happen. Below are a few tips to help make sure you are prepared.

Tip #1: Focus on the Basics

Your estate plan doesn’t need to be complicated, but you should have the foundational documents for a well-rounded plan as a starting point:

With these documents, you can give direction to your loved ones and the court regarding your preferred decision makers and your property.

Tip #2: Discuss Your Plan

Many people are resistant to having a conversation about estate planning, but it’s important to talk to your loved ones about the decisions you have made and why. While a Will or Trust is very concise and clear about the process an executor or trustee is supposed to take, it may not explain your reasoning and could cause family drama. If you explain your motivations, then your family will be able to better understand your choices.

Tip #3: Leave it to the Professionals

Many people use online programs to create estate planning documents with the goal of saving money, but if you don’t include important information you can actually increase the cost of probating your estate. Instead of taking the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach, schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney to discuss protecting your family’s future.

Putting together a proper estate plan not only ensures asset protection after you pass away, but gives you peace of mind while you are here—and that’s valuable to have at any age!