Graduation Gift? How About Legal Documents?

Graduation gift how about legal documents

Graduation gift – How about legal documents? Arguments have been made that a set of legal documents are the best gift for a high school graduate. Now that’s not quite as bad as coal in a Christmas stocking. But not quite as much fun as a MacBook Air, either. A recent USA Today article explained why it’s worth considering.

Think about it – an 18-year-old is a legal adult.  

“What this means to each of us is the only individuals that can make financial or health care decisions for us are the individuals we legally appoint.  Mommy and Daddy are no longer the legal guardians,” says Clearwater, Florida attorney Linda Chamberlain in her own blog post on the topic: The Best Gift for the Graduate

But They Don’t Own Anything!

You might say, “But my 18-year-old doesn’t own anything. Why do they need a will?” There are other documents that become important upon reaching adulthood. For 18-year-olds who don’t own anything, they still have rights, such as:

  • to private medical records,
  • to make their own health care decisions,
  • to sign their own lease or
  • to open, close or pay bills on a bank account.

If the young adult is incapacitated, parents can no longer legally do those things for them.

The most common worst-case scenario described is an accident where the young adult is hospitalized. This is when documents like:

  • a HIPAA designation (allows consent to share medical records),
  • Health Care Surrogate (consents to have health care decisions made),
  • Durable Power of Attorney (for managing money and accounts), and
  • Living Will

could be crucial.

In Florida, most estate planning attorneys will provide a set of documents for a small flat fee, especially for children of their established clients. Ask your attorney, check your local estate planning council directory, or ask your professional advisors for referrals.

Contact us if you need referrals for Tampa Bay area attorneys or if you have other financial concerns for someone becoming a newly-minted adult. Schedule a call with the online calendar button at our page: Contact.

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Get a Go-Bag: Lesson from the Hospital

Get a go-bag: lesson from the hospital. A 73-year-old client recently had an unplanned hospital stay and gave permission to share her story.

She originally had an outpatient foot surgery. Subsequently it developed an infection missed by her physicians. Once her foot swelled up and was bursting with pain, only then did they send her immediately to the ER.

As you might expect, it was an ordeal of mixed experiences. Once she got a (semi-private) room, the nursing staff was wonderful. The cleaning staff – not so much. Evidently they had missed cleaning her room’s bathroom after the last patients left. Before getting a room, she spent 15 hours parked on a gurney in the ER hallway. Doctors would walk by, see her foot, stop and simply say, “Wow, that looks painful.” Then keep going.

In case you’re wondering, she has a the “Cadillac” Medicare Plan F (no longer available to new enrollees) with supplemental coverage.

She spent three days there, which was long enough for this astute patient to think of all the things she would do differently next time before coming. She had her toothbrush, but not her eye mask for sleeping. She had socks, but shower shoes would have been nice. She didn’t have her face soap, so for three days she used the “industrial” hospital hand soap.

Minimalists might think this is minor stuff. But when you are in a most uncomfortable situation and place, isn’t that when comforts are needed the most?

Lesson Learned

She wanted to ask her partner to bring some of these things, but she realized he really wouldn’t know what all the stuff in her medicine cabinet was. It seemed like a big ask. He had already held ice packs on her feet for 4 hours straight. How could she describe which of her many bottles to bring?

If it had been me, once I got home, I would have been relieved to be out of the hospital, get on with my life and try to forget it ever happened. Not this lady. She immediately shopped for everything she wanted to have but missed. Then she assembled everything in two go-bags. Now, if she is unable to grab them herself, she has told her partner about them, written down on the medicine cabinet where to find them, and what needs to be added at the last minute. All he has to do is bring them along.

Comfort and Dignity

When my grandmother, a tall, beautiful, always put-together woman, was in the hospital, dying, she asked for someone to make up her face every morning. At that time I was a teenager. I didn’t understand this request. It seemed so unimportant in the scheme of things. Several decades later, when my mother-in-law was in a similar state, I read on a Hospice brochure how rubbing the feet is one of the best things you can do. Hospice is the authority on being comfortable and retaining dignity at a time of greatest discomfort and indignity. The founder, Dame Cicely Saunders, said, “People matter, even when they are dying. We all need to care for the dying and not let them become reduced to just a set of physical problems or a list of needs.”

Even if you are not dying, for your comfort and dignity, if you need your Lancome set, you need your Lancome set. If you want your hair rollers, you should have your hair rollers. Hospital stays are not the time for even more comfort sacrifices. You are already being subjected to enough.

This client, like my grandmother was at that age, is always beautiful and put together. So when she shared that she had put a go-bag together, I knew it would be the nicest best stuff. She is also frugal, so it’s not the most expensive, either. Here is her list, and a photo of the beautiful bags they are in.

The Go-Bags and List

Get a go-bag
  • Small net bath puff
  • body wash
  • razor
  • Bath wipes
  • Body lotion
  • Aquaphor
  • deodorant
  • Shower shoes 
  • Kleenex
  • Poo-Pourri (sharing a bathroom!!)
  • Mini Brush/Comb
  • hair ties & clips
  • lip balm
  • tweezer
  • Small Mirror
  • Toothpaste
  • Listerine
  • Floss
  • Sleep mask
  • Face cloth
  • Face sponges
  • Cerave Cleanser & Moisturizer
  • Various sample serums
  • Extra copies of medical insurance cards
  • Underwear!

She says, “The Coach small tote is nice & roomy but nondescript. The black bag is made by Travelon, which I purchased on Amazon. It’s a REALLY nice bag! [My partner] will add cell phone/charger, electric toothbrush & contents of whatever bag I’m using at the time. Obviously, if it’s a trauma situation, this stuff would not be necessary, but it could always be brought later if needed.”

A Few Add-Ons

I advised to add extra copies of her living will and medical directives (HIPAA designation and health care power of attorney documents). Additionally, to reduce having to remember the cell phone charger and electric toothbrush, you could buy an extra of each. For example, I have a cheap travel electric toothbrush which uses AA batteries that could have a permanent home in the go-bag.

What would you add to your hospital go-bag? How would you make it your own? Do you have a parent or family member who could use their own go-bag? It might make a fun shopping trip to put together nice things that they like in a nice bag for them.

Hospital stays aren’t fun to think about. Being prepared with little comforts and reminders of home might help make a rotten situation a little less so.

For monthly tips on money psychology and tax savings mixed with attempts at humor, subscribe to the award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn.

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You Might Want a Trust If….

Trust Legal documents

You might want a trust if….

“Do I need a trust?” Although it’s a legal question, it’s frequently asked of financial advisors. What do they say? 

  • “Hey, I’m not an attorney,” is one possible—but maybe not the most helpful—answer. 
  • “Hey, I’m not an attorney, but I can play one,” may be polite, but inadvisable. 
  • “That’s interesting you bring that up. I’m curious how you heard about trusts.” This reply seems a little better. It keeps the focus on the questioner, and it’s pretty safe legally. 

Pros and Cons of Trusts 

Answers people may give for curiosity about trusts range from, “I dunno,” to citations of articles, websites, conversations with friends, family members, or even an estate planning attorney. All of the mixed messages about them can get pretty confusing. 

For some people, trusts are a mysterious-yet-evil domain of the ultra-rich. This belief isn’t surprising. When was the last time you saw positive media coverage of a trust? It typically pops up when a billionaire’s “trust fund baby” is arrested. 

There are dozens of kinds of trusts. For this post, “trust” means a revocable living trust. They tend to be the most common and relevant. 

Trusts aren’t for everyone. They are costly to set up. Some people have difficulty implementing and maintaining them. They are powerful. Scary powerful, sometimes.

Rather than answering, “Do I need a trust?” directly, I prefer to channel comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s famous phrase, “You might be a redneck if …” (anyone under 40 may have to look him up). It seems to help people discover for themselves whether a trust might be useful.

7 Reasons You Might Want a Trust

1. If you own property in more than one state or country, you might want a trust.

Trusts avoid probate—if drafted, executed, and implemented properly. Property in two states/countries means probate in two states/countries. In many states, probate attorneys charge a percentage of the probated asset value. Dollars spent now on a trust could seem small compared to the dollars spent on lawyers and court fees in two places later.

2. If you are concerned about a grown child’s ability to handle money, you might want a trust.

A child gets the money with no strings attached if left through a joint account, will, payable-on-death (POD) designation, or beneficiary designation. Trusts let you build strings. One common example is to pay one-third of principal at age 30, one-third at age 35, and the remainder at age 40. As your family ages and changes, you can revise trust provisions like these. Revocable living trusts are amendable.

3. If you have a concern about a child’s current marriage, you might want a trust.

Trusts can be written so that inherited assets can be protected in a divorce. Assets inherited other ways, especially if commingled with other marital assets, can be harder to protect.

4. If you have a concern about a child’s future marriage, you might want a trust.

Trust provisions can be written for future spouses, too.

5. If you aren’t as concerned about dying so much as living a long time with chronic illness or dementia, you might want a trust.

What happens if you’re unable to manage your finances? People often don’t consider that a will only applies upon death. That’s why they should have a power of attorney (POA). Although much work has been done to get institutional agreement on POAs, your designated POA person might still face a custodian, attorney, or title company who won’t recognize it, or who at least gives your person a hard time about it.

If an asset is in a trust, your person—the trustee or co-trustee—generally faces fewer roadblocks than with the POA.

6. If you are in a second (or more) marriage and have children from a previous one, you might want a trust.

Let’s say you both agree that the spouse gets the house, but the kids get the money you brought to the marriage. With a will and beneficiary designations, this basic idea can be accomplished. Sometimes life (and death) work out that simply. Yet sometimes they don’t. (See points 4 and 5.)

It’s possible your spouse could be left without enough money to live in the house, or the kids could be left with nothing. If either of those scenarios bothers you, a trust can allow for changing circumstances as you both age.

7. If you are concerned about a loved one’s vulnerability in their time of grief, you might want a trust.

Probate is public. If you’ve ever known someone who has been through it, then you are familiar with the annoying phone calls and direct mail received after losing someone. If you haven’t, you might be shocked to know that … people troll public records.

Some trolls, I mean, people, especially like the records that declare which investment account(s) and which beach condo go to whom. Then, out of the goodness of their hearts, they find the grieving loved one and offer to provide assistance and support in their time of need. (Ahem.)

Unlike probate, transferring property through a trust happens privately.

Ask Your Attorney

In summary, these are only seven of several reasons you might want a trust. But the best person to ask is a board-certified estate planning attorney. Find one through your local estate planning council (www.naepc.org) or ask your financial advisor for references.

For a simple list of 25 steps to complete for estate planning, click here.

For monthly tips on managing your money in retirement, taxes, and typical snafus, subscribe to the award-winning e-letter, “The View From the Porch.”

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Digital Assets: How To Document

Digital Assets

Digital assets: How to document. Imagine you have a nearly $1 billion empire of digital assets – music, movies, and royalties. Sound good?

Now imagine you have no will, aren’t in a committed relationship, and have no children. What happens to those digital assets if something happens to you? Prince’s untimely death in 2016, and his lack of estate planning, brought to mind that the more we have, especially digital assets, the more we have to plan.

Celebrities have a team of advisors who try to keep up with constant changes to their clients’ property, especially when it comes to protecting intellectual property. The longer a celebrity waits to address an ever-growing empire, the harder the decisions are to make for everyone involved. Their advisors find it’s better to address changes as they happen, even if it means more frequent revisions.

Back in the Real World

So what does this have to do with non-celebrities? While you may not feel as though you have a digital empire, your online life might be more complicated than you think. It’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords.

For example, an attorney had a father-in-law who ran three businesses from his digital devices. When he died suddenly in 2011, she was shocked at how difficult it was to access his emails, accounts, and online life. Every online provider had different requirements. Many of them would not honor court documents asserting her authority over his affairs. This was her introduction to the concept of the “digital asset,” and, as a result, she became an expert in that niche.

Keeping track of digital assets can be overwhelming, but you can begin by thinking about them in four main types – personal, financial, business, and social.

Personal Digital Assets

Photos, movies, books, e-books, music, and podcasts. Unlike your Simon and Garfunkel records, Michael Jackson CD’s, or Rocky DVDs that the kids will get whether they want them or not, there are some e-libraries you can’t leave to anyone. For example, access to Kindle and iTunes libraries die with their owners. Upon notice of death, all content in an iCloud account is deleted. Therefore, for photos and videos stored in the cloud, make sure you have a backup, especially if it’s iCloud. Leave instructions somewhere on how to get into iCloud, and how to get to the backup.

Financial Digital Assets

Bank, brokerage, PayPal, Venmo, frequent flyer, crypto, and Treasury Direct accounts. Did you sign up for paperless statements? Then there will be no paper trail. Make sure you have documented somewhere that online accounts exist. Email is one of the most critical items for heirs to access. If no one can get into your email, and you haven’t kept good notes somewhere, they may not know you even have a crypto, Venmo, Treasury Direct or I-bonds account.

Business Digital Assets

Blogs, e-books, audiobooks, e-commerce sites. Intellectual property is often housed digitally. Have you inventoried any copyrighted works and addressed them in your estate planning documents? Can someone get to them in a way that will continue to produce revenue or royalties? This one is a definite issue to discuss with an estate planning attorney.

Social Digital Accounts

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, LinkedIn.  An elderly friend passed away in 2009 but his face and profile still popped up occasionally as someone “I might know” on Facebook and LinkedIn. I am guessing his family either weren’t involved with social media, or simply were not able to log in and post a nice memorial tribute to a wonderful man. What do you want your online presence to look like, if at all, and for how long, once you’re gone? Many of the social media sites now have ways to transition your account should you die or become incapacitated.

Digital Assets Executors

With many assets and accounts, you might need a digital asset executor. It turns out there are such roles now, and 47 states, including Florida, have ratified them through passage of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA). (You can read all about it here: https://my.uniformlaws.org/committees/community-home/librarydocuments?communitykey=f7237fc4-74c2-4728-81c6-b39a91ecdf22&tab=librarydocuments). With the act, you can name a digital executor – someone you trust to access your email, text messages, and social media accounts, in your will or trust. Through UFADAA the online companies now must honor your wishes, if they are documented properly.

Two Steps to Begin

Take a few minutes to consider how easy, or not, it would be for someone to take over your digital life. A first step can be to list all financial and business accounts on one page. If you have a comprehensive financial plan, ask your advisor to compile a one-page net worth report listing all of your accounts and assets. Keep the report/listing somewhere safe, but also let the important people in your life know how to find it.

Once you have the listing, next is providing all the credentials. It’s tough to know the safest way to store these. Should you handwrite them next to the accounts on a paper version of the list, or save them in yet another digital format? What will be the easiest way for the right someone to find them, but not too easy for wrong someones?

Further, it can be challenging to keep all the credentials up to date. One solution is to use a digital password manager, such as DashLane. Knowing one master password is all that’s required to access credentials to any and all accounts stored there.

Taking this inventory is a good beginning to leaving a bread crumb trail for the important people in your life who may need to pick up where you left off. Further, spring is a good time of year, while you have all of your year-end statements together for tax preparation, to dive in.

If getting financially organized is a challenge for you, schedule a call and tell us what’s on your mind. https://bit.ly/3GWZNrc.

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As a Child-Free Elder, Who Will Be On Your Team?

“Who will take care of you when you’re old?” someone once asked me when I told her I had no children.

It seemed like an old-fashioned kind of question. Nevertheless, it caused a mini panic attack.

Knowing the statistics, I had made the vague assumption that I would need to make arrangements for care, but something about her question made that statistical probability more real.

About 14 percent of 40- to 44-year-old women had no children in 2018 – up from about 10 percent in 1980, U.S. Census data shows. This is and will be an issue for millions of Americans.

As anyone who has served as a caregiver knows, there are four main questions to ask from the beginning. Answering these can lead to the formation of an elder care support team. The team members may come from two areas – friends and family, professionals, or both.

  • Where will I live?
  • Who will make medical decisions for me?
  • Who will handle my finances?
  • How will I get transportation?

Team Member 1: Where will I live?

The first part of figuring out the team is to know where you will be living. The vast majority of Americans want to age in their homes. For some people that home might be the place they have lived for several decades. If so, then the team member will likely be a home health care company.

For others, home might be a place they move to – with a supportive community, but not a facility (perhaps at first). If that’s you, building a network of friends and professionals in the community can be one of the best ways to reinforce your support team.

Although it’s not in many people’s plans, sometimes aging at home isn’t an option. For people aging without children, it’s more important to get to know assisted living and continuing care facilities, and figure out how you would pay for them. (For myself, I purchased a traditional long-term care policy. But that doesn’t mean that is the right solution for everyone.)

Team Member 2: Who will make medical decisions for me if I can’t?

Preferably someone close by. Ideally this person could be available at a moment’s notice and will not have to travel far to attend appointments with you.

Having a strong primary care physician relationship is also highly beneficial. Some doctors, especially those who specialize in concierge medicine, can and will serve as your legal health care surrogate.

Team Member 3: Who will handle my financial affairs?

Many attorneys recommend having a different person named for financial matters than for health care decisions. As aging progresses, it’s a lot to ask of one person to handle bill paying, money management, and doctor appointments (as anyone who has served as a sole caregiver can attest).

Money management involves several duties. To name a few,

  • Paying bills and making renewal decisions (such as memberships, subscriptions, and/or insurance policies)
  • Making gifts
  • Making transfers between accounts, such as taking IRA withdrawals
  • Managing investments

Your financial team might involve two members – someone who does the day-to-day management, plus a professional investment manager. Most professional investment managers do not provide billpaying and cash flow management. Professional investment managers may charge a fee that is a percentage of the amount they manager, or a flat fee. If a friend or family member is taking over the day-to-day, it’s important to pay that person a fair fee, too.

Or you can find a fiduciary who will cover it all. Trust companies are one example of fiduciaries who will handle all financial duties if they are named as trustee or co-trustee on your documents.

My choice for now is an independent fiduciary. She happens to have a law degree and serves in this capacity full-time. Her services won’t begin unless I’m alone and losing the ability to handle things myself. Hopefully that’s a very long time from now, if ever.

Team Member 4: How will I get transportation?

If you move to a community with many transportation alternatives, you might not need a separate team member for transportation. This is my goal – a walkable community with good public transportation alternatives. The EPA even publishes a National Walkability Index.

But if you are staying in a home or community without many alternatives to your own car, and you don’t want to use ridesharing with strangers like Uber or Lyft, you could assemble a network of friends and acquaintances on whom to rely. So together they will be your transportation team member.

How can I make my affairs easier to manage for the team?

Consolidate and simplify with one financial institution. It will be far easier for your financial surrogate, and the institution may even show you some extra appreciation. Some people are concerned that this is not being “diversified.” Nowadays, most institutions can hold a diversity of cash and investments all under the same roof. Just make sure to keep under the FDIC limit in any bank accounts.

Use the health apps provided by your healthcare providers to give easy access to your electronic medical records.

Have all of your digital passwords in one digital password manager. Most people don’t realize they have on average over 200 accounts with passwords. See “Document Your Digital Assets.”

How do I make it all legal?

Once you have decided who you would like to name as your surrogates, have either a durable power of attorney (DPOA) or living trust drafted by a board-certified estate planning attorney. (See “Do I need a trust?” for more on the topic of trusts.) The same attorney will often also draft your living will and healthcare power of attorney, too. For qualified attorney recommendations, check for your local chapter members of the National Association of Estate Planning Councils.

For more information on planning for aging, check out the e-book, How Does Your Money Flow? A Guide to Common Saving, Spending, and Sharing Decisions (Porchview Publishing, $3.99, available in e-reader-friendly formats). Or, join the list for our free award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch.”

Continue ReadingAs a Child-Free Elder, Who Will Be On Your Team?

Document Your Digital Assets

document digital assets

Document your digital assets. Imagine you have a nearly $1 billion empire of music, movies, and royalties. Sound good? Now imagine you have no will, aren’t in a committed relationship, and have no children. Where and how do you begin to decide what should happen to your empire? Prince’s untimely death in 2016, and his lack of estate planning, brought to mind that the more we have, the more we have to plan for it.

Celebrities’ attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors try to keep up with constant changes to their clients’ property, especially when it comes to protecting intellectual property like music and videos. The longer a celebrity waits to address an ever-growing empire, the harder the decisions are to make for everyone involved. They find it’s better to address changes as they happen, even it means more frequent revisions.

Back in the Real World

So what does this have to do with little ol’ you? While you may not feel as though you have a digital empire, your online life might be more complicated than you think. It’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords.

For example, an attorney had a father-in-law who ran 3 businesses from his Blackberry. When he died suddenly in 2011, she was shocked at how difficult it was to access his emails, accounts, and online life. Every online provider had different requirements. This was her introduction to the concept of the “digital asset,” and, as a result, she became an expert in that niche.

Keeping track of digital assets can be overwhelming, but you can begin with 4 main types – personal, financial, business, and social:

Digital Personal Assets

Photos, Movies, Books, E-books, Music, and Podcasts. Unlike your Simon and Garfunkel records, Michael Jackson CD’s, or Rocky DVDs that the kids will get whether they want them or not, there are some e-libraries you can’t leave to anyone. For example, access to Kindle and iTunes libraries die with their owners.  For all your photos and videos stored in the cloud, make sure you have a backup, especially if it’s iCloud. Upon proof of death, all content in an iCloud account is deleted.

Digital Financial Assets

Bank, Brokerage, PayPal, Frequent Flyer, Bitcoin, etc. Did you sign up for paperless statements? Good for you, but make sure you have documented somewhere that the accounts exist. If no one can get into your email, and you haven’t kept good notes or a plan somewhere, they may not know you opened a new Treasury Direct account or I-bonds account.

Digital Business Assets

Blogs, E-books, Books, E-commerce sites. Intellectual property is often housed digitally. Have you inventoried any copyrighted works and addressed them in your estate planning documents? Can someone get to them in a way that will continue to produce revenue or royalties?

Digital Social Accounts

Email, Text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc..  An elderly friend of mine passed away 6 years ago but his face and profile still pop up occasionally as someone “I might know” on my Facebook and LinkedIn. I am guessing his family either aren’t involved with social media, or simply were not able to log in and post a nice memorial tribute to a wonderful man. What do you want your online presence to look like, if at all, and for how long, once you’re gone? 

With all of these different accounts, it seems like you might need a digital asset will and executor. It turns out there are such roles now, and 47 states, including Florida, have ratified them through passage of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA). (You can read all about it here: https://my.uniformlaws.org/committees/community-home/librarydocuments?communitykey=f7237fc4-74c2-4728-81c6-b39a91ecdf22&tab=librarydocuments). In the act, you can name a digital executor – someone to access your email, text messages, and social media accounts, in your will or trust.

Take a Few Minutes

Take a few minutes to consider how easy, or not, it will be for someone to take over for you. If you aren’t the paper notebook type, or just ready to reduce paper, check out either The Beneficiary Book at Amazon, or www.everplans.com.

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to the award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn.

Continue ReadingDocument Your Digital Assets

Channeling Jeff Foxworthy – You Might Want a Trust If….

“Do I need a trust?” Although it’s a legal question, it’s frequently asked of financial advisors. What do they say? 

“Hey, I’m not an attorney,” is one possible—but maybe not the most helpful—answer. 

“Hey, I’m not an attorney, but I can play one,” may be polite, but inadvisable. 

“That’s interesting you bring that up. I’m curious how you heard about trusts.” This reply seems a little better. It keeps the focus on the questioner, and it’s pretty safe legally. 

Pros and Cons of Trusts 

Answers people may give range from, “I dunno,” to citations of articles, websites, conversations with friends, family members, or even an estate planning attorney. All of those mixed messages can get pretty confusing. 

For some people, trusts are a mysterious-yet-evil domain of the ultra-rich. This belief isn’t surprising. When was the last time you saw positive media coverage of a trust? It typically pops up when a billionaire’s “trust fund baby” is arrested. 

There are dozens of kinds of trusts. For this post, “trust” means a revocable living trust. They tend to be the most common and relevant. 

Trusts aren’t for everyone. They are costly to set up. Some people have difficulty implementing and maintaining them. They are powerful. Scary powerful, sometimes.

 Rather than answering, “Do I need a trust?” directly, I prefer to channel comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s famous phrase, “You might be a redneck if …” (anyone under 40 may have to look him up). It seems to help people discover for themselves whether a trust might be useful.

 You Might Want a Trust If….7 Reasons

 1. If you own property in more than one state or country, you might want a trust.

 Trusts avoid probate—if drafted, executed, and implemented properly. Property in two states/countries means probate in two states/countries. In many states, probate attorneys charge a percentage of the probated asset value. Dollars spent now on a trust could seem small compared to the dollars spent on lawyers and court fees in two places later.

2. If you are concerned about a grown child’s ability to handle money, you might want a trust.

 The child gets the money, no strings attached, if left through a joint account, will, payable-on-death (POD) designation, or beneficiary designation. Trusts let you build strings. One common example is to pay one-third of principal at age 30, one-third at age 35, and the remainder at age 40. As your family ages and changes, you can revise trust provisions like these. Revocable living trusts are amendable.

3. If you have a concern about a child’s current marriage, you might want a trust.

Trusts can be written so that inherited assets can be protected in a divorce. Assets inherited other ways, especially if commingled with other marital assets, can be harder to protect.

4. If you have a concern about a child’s future marriage, you might want a trust.

Trust provisions can be written for future spouses, too.

5. If you aren’t as concerned about dying as living a long time with chronic illness or dementia, you might want a trust.

What happens if you’re unable to manage your finances? People often don’t consider that a will only applies upon death. That’s why they should have a power of attorney (POA). Although much work has been done to get institutional agreement on POAs, your designated POA person might still face a custodian, attorney, or title company who won’t recognize it, or will at least give your person a hard time about it.

If an asset is in a trust, your person—the trustee or co-trustee—generally faces fewer roadblocks than with the POA.

6. If you are in a second (or later) marriage and have children from a previous one, you might want a trust.

Let’s say you both agree that the spouse gets the house, but the kids get the money you brought to the marriage. With a will and beneficiary designations, this basic idea can be accomplished. Sometimes life (and death) work out that simply, yet sometimes they don’t. (See last point.)

It’s possible your spouse could be left without enough money to live in the house, or the kids could be left with nothing. If either of those scenarios bothers you, a trust can allow for changing circumstances as you both age.

7. If you care about a loved one’s vulnerability in their time of grief, you might want a trust.

Probate is public. If you’ve ever known someone who has been through it, then you are familiar with the annoying phone calls and direct mail received after losing someone. If you haven’t, you might be shocked to know that … people troll public records.

Some trolls, I mean, people, especially like the records that declare which investment account(s) and which beach house go to whom. Then, out of the goodness of their hearts, they find the grieving loved one and offer to provide assistance and support in their time of need. (Ahem.)

Unlike probate, transferring property through a trust happens privately.

Ask Your Attorney

In summary, these are only seven of several reasons you might want a trust. But the best person to ask is a board-certified estate planning attorney. Find one through your local estate planning council (www.naepc.org) or ask your financial advisor for references.

Continue ReadingChanneling Jeff Foxworthy – You Might Want a Trust If….

Talent, Temperament and Time: Three Criteria for Choosing a Trustee

Talent, temperament and time: three criteria for choosing a trustee.

When it comes to more advanced estate planning, many people choose to go the route of forming a trust. Reasons for doing so can be as simple as avoiding probate in another state, or as complex as managing family dynamics in multi-generational blended families. (For top 10 reasons you might want a trust, see: You Might Want a Trust If…)

Trusts should be formed with the assistance of a board-certified estate planning attorney. At some point the attorney will ask, “And after you, who do you want to be trustee? Successor trustee?” Often the first person who pops into mind is a relative, especially if they wouldn’t charge anything. But acting as trustee can be a serious duty and responsibility (read: headache, in some instances) to ask someone to assume.

For some people, naming a family member may be the best option. Others might benefit from a large corporate trust company. Still others may want something in between, perhaps an independent fiduciary or an attorney or CPA.

When choosing a trustee, it’s best to include at least three criteria: talent, temperament, and time. The relative importance of each will depend on the trust’s purpose. As you review them, keep in mind, why is the trust being established in the first place?

Talent

How much talent does a trustee need, and what kind of talent? Talent in a particular area may be a necessity, or just nice to have. Talent needs to be considered in four main areas: legal, accounting, taxes, and investments.

Trustees may be accountable to and liable for decisions made on behalf of all beneficiaries, both current and future. Therefore, if a trustee is managing a trust for a current beneficiary (say a widowed spouse), they might also have to look out for future beneficiaries (say, children). That can feel like a delicate balancing act. For example, if the trust beneficiaries are apt to question the trustee’s decisions, legal talent would be not only beneficial, but possibly necessary.

In some states, trustees are required to provide an annual report to beneficiaries showing all sources of income, expenditures, and (here’s where many get tripped up), expenses paid from income or principal. If the trust is or becomes irrevocable, it must file its own tax return. Trusts are subject to an entirely different set of tax rules than individuals. Accounting talent is critical for that.

Further, once the trust is established and funded, will it be around long enough that money must be invested? How will it be invested with the best interests of the beneficiaries in mind? Investment management talent might be needed at that point.

A family member lacking one or more talents can still make a good trustee, if there is a plan to hire out the talent.  For example if all four areas will be critical, it might be worthwhile to hire a corporate trust company as co-trustee with the family member and give the family member the ability to make a change if needed.

Next, though, ask whether they have the temperament and the time.

Temperament

Does the trustee have the temperament? Honesty, objectivity, and maturity are three qualities that are a good litmus test of a trustee’s capacity to handle the responsibilities. If a trust has several beneficiaries, do those beneficiaries know and trust the trustee already? Can the trustee be completely impartial among all beneficiaries? How adept is the trustee at managing emotional reactions, both their own and others’, when it comes to decisions about money?

Time

What kind of time is required and does the trustee have it? Meetings and communications with lawyers, accountants, investment managers, bankers and/or brokers can take time. Reviewing statements, gathering data for tax returns, compiling or reviewing reports for all the parties, and answering questions from beneficiaries also may be required. Depending upon the size and complexity of the trust, acting as trustee could become a full-time job.

More Than One Trustee

Talent, temperament and time are three factors that need to be considered for all trustees. But also, what if something happens to the trustee? How long will the trustee most likely be around?

Trusts nearly always provide for successor trustees and some name co-trustees and successor co-trustees. Co-trustees can be family members (say, all siblings); or a family member and a corporate trustee or professional like an attorney. Co-trustees can provide checks and balances on each other, but that can also make changes and decisions burdensome. In a worst case scenario, co-trustees may have to go to mediation or court to resolve their differences. Another strategy is to name a “trust protector,” who does not have the powers of a trustee, but has oversight to fire and hire trustees. Consider whether adding decisionmakers to the trust document would help. Remember to keep in mind the reason the trust is being created in the first place.

Consult a Knowledgeable Attorney

The good news is that most trusts are very flexible instruments that can be custom designed to reflect your wishes. The bad news is that flexibility can lead to a confusing array of choices. To sort through it all, it’s best to have a thorough discussion with a lawyer. Find one who is board-certified or practices full-time in wills, trusts and estates. Check out peer ratings for attorneys on www.martindale.com.

See this link for more about the responsibilities of a trustee, start with the Florida Bar’s consumer information page on revocable trusts: https://www.floridabar.org/public/consumer/pamphlet028/#WHAT%20ARE%20THE%20TRUSTEE’S%20RESPONSIBI

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Continue ReadingTalent, Temperament and Time: Three Criteria for Choosing a Trustee

Dig Those Digital Assets

How many digital assets do you have? While it’s tax time and you are pulling the details of your financial life together, give this some thought: if necessary, how could someone easily step in the shoes of your digital life? Increasingly our financial lives are all online. Could someone you trust find your digital paper trail?

Digital assets and estate planningA Near Miss

Shortly before a relative died in 2008, he showed me where and how he kept his financial life organized. He had accounts in more places than I could keep track of in my head. So we wrote them all down. Between the visit to his home office and our written instructions, I thought I was all clear on what he had and how to get to it. But when it came time, I still nearly missed one. It was the only account for which no statement came in the mail – an online-only account (known as a “digital asset”) at Treasury Direct.  I uncovered it, 11 months after his death, as I was clearing out the file cabinet. It was in an empty manila folder with a scribbled label. A userid and several crossed-out passwords were written on the inside flap. It turned out to be a five-figure account.

Many Kinds of Digital Assets

Nowadays, it’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords. Of course, not all of them have money in them, but they still might be “assets.” Have you thought about the value in Paypal accounts, frequent flyer accounts, Amazon accounts, eBay accounts, and any kind of points-earning sites? Membership sites – AAA, AARP, fraternities, sororities, national professional associations, etc. might hold some kind of group life or accidental death policies. A blog or YouTube channel might bring in a little advertising revenue. Even if the site or account has no potential for ever producing money, most people have some kind of online presence, even if it’s simply their Facebook page, that they might not want hanging out there if they’re no longer around.

One Solution – A Password Manager​

One app I have been using is a password manager app called Dashlane. It sits on the hard drive and remembers sites and passwords. All someone needs to do is enter my Dashlane password, and they can see what I’ve got and how to get to it. Scary? Perhaps. To play it a little safer, I choose not to use the “cloud ” version of Dashlane to share among all devices. There seem to be arguments for and against this strategy for using a password manager.

What’s your digital asset plan should something happen to you? Share a comment here.

Continue ReadingDig Those Digital Assets

Mind Your 4 Digital Asset Types

An attorney I met had a father-in-law who ran 3 businesses from his Blackberry. When he died suddenly, she was shocked at how difficult it was to access his emails, accounts, and online life. Every online provider had different requirements. This was her introduction to the concept of the “digital asset.”

Digital Assets

Have you ever given thought to your digital assets and how someone else would step in your shoes? It’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords. Keeping track can be overwhelming, but we can begin by naming 4 main types – personal, financial, business, and social:

1) Personal assets:

Photos, Movies, Books, E-books, Music, and Podcasts. Unlike your Simon and Garfunkel records, Michael Jackson CD’s, or Rocky DVDs that the kids will get whether they want them or not, there are some e-libraries you can’t leave to anyone. For example, access to Kindle and iTunes libraries die with their owners.  For all your photos and videos stored in the cloud, make sure you have a backup, especially if it’s iCloud. Upon proof of death, all content in an iCloud account is deleted.

2) Financial assets:

Bank, Brokerage, PayPal, Frequent Flyer, Bitcoin, etc. Did you sign up for paperless statements? Good for you, but make sure you have documented somewhere that the accounts exist. If no one can get into your email, and you haven’t kept good notes or a plan somewhere, they may not know you opened a new Treasury Direct account. 

Additionally, once the bank or brokerage company learns of your demise, they may lock out the online account, preventing anyone from accessing statements. Statements are essential for understanding how much was in the account at date of death, but primarily, how your assets are titled.

3) Business assets:

Blogs, E-books, Books, E-commerce sites. Intellectual property is often housed digitally. Have you inventoried any copyrighted works and addressed them in your estate planning documents? Can someone get to them in a way that will continue to produce revenue or royalties? 

4) Social accounts:

Email, Text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc..  An elderly friend of mine passed away 6 years ago but his face and profile still pop up occasionally as someone “I might know” on my Facebook and LinkedIn. I am guessing his family either aren’t involved with social media, or simply were not able to log in and post a nice memorial tribute to a wonderful man. What do you want your online presence to look like, if at all, and for how long, once you’re gone? 

With all of these different, it seems like you might need a digital asset will and executor. It turns out there are such things now, and 10 states, including Florida, have ratified them through passage of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Asset Act (RUFADAA). (You can more about it here: https://www.onefpa.org/journal/Pages/APR18-Estate-Planning-for-Digital-Assets-Understanding-the-Revised-Uniform-Fiduciary-Access-to-Digital-Assets-Act-and.aspx. In the act, you can name a digital asset executor – someone to access your email, text messages, and social media accounts, in your will or trust.

If you have been reading or watching for a while, you know I am a fan of having a Notebook. But if you aren’t the paper Notebook type, or just ready to reduce paper, check out www.everplans.com. For $75, you can have a plan and inventory of your digital estate, easily accessible to those you trust. If you give it a try, let me know how it works out, and I’ll post feedback here for future readers. 

Continue ReadingMind Your 4 Digital Asset Types