What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

Custody and guardianship both allow someone else to care for a minor child. The main difference is how they’re set up. Keep reading to find out more.

What is Custody?

Custody is a family court order that allows someone to care for a minor child. One of the most common uses of custody is in divorce cases where the court will decide if the parents share joint custody, one will have primary custody, or, in rare cases, only one will have custody. A parent may also lose custody in cases of abuse or neglect.

What is Guardianship?

Guardianship comes from the probate court rather than family court. The guardian has similar powers to a parent or another person with custody. Guardianship may be used when both parents pass away or when both parents don’t have the physical or mental capacity to care for their child any longer.

Guardianship can also be used in the case of an adult who due to illness, injury, or disability is unable to care for himself or herself.

What’s the Difference Between Joint and Physical Custody and Guardianship?

Custody arrangements are often divided into physical and legal custody. Physical custody means a parent has the right to spend time with a child such as during visitation periods. Legal custody means a parent has the authority to make decisions over things like healthcare and education. With the trend towards awarding joint custody, most parents share both physical and legal custody, but this may not always be the same.

A guardianship is a legal arrangement, although the guardian often will also take in the child physically. If the guardianship is temporary, such as while a parent is in the hospital or jail, the guardian may be limited to making day-to-day decisions for the child during that time rather than having the same authority for more permanent decisions as a parent or someone with permanent custody would.

How Long Do Custody and Guardianship Arrangements Last?

Custody arrangements usually last until the age of majority. The parents or another interested party may request a modification of custody if there has been a significant change in circumstances.

Guardianships can also be permanent until the age of majority, but they may also be temporary. For example, a parent who is serving overseas or going in for a surgery may appoint a temporary guardian.

Can There Be Both Custody and Guardianship?

In most situations, guardianship is only used when both parents are unable to care for a child. If there is joint custody and something happens to one parent, the other parent will usually take on full custody at least until the other parent recovers. If something happens to both parents or the other parent is temporarily or permanently too far away to take on a greater role, the court may appoint a guardian. If either parent becomes able to take on full custody, the court would usually end the guardianship.

How Do Custody and Guardianship Start?

Custody often starts as one of the decisions a judge makes in a divorce case. The judge has the final say and decides what’s in the best interests of the child. The parents can ask for a certain arrangement, but even if both parents are in complete agreement, the judge may opt for a different course of action.

Custody can also arise out of an abuse or neglect case. Terminating or reducing parental rights is a serious decision, and the court will give anyone who such allegations have been made against the chance to answer the allegations. However, custody cases are not criminal trials, and the judge’s ultimate role is to further the best interests of the child.

Guardianship is also overseen by the court, but the process is slightly different. If a parent who is currently of sound mind and able to care for his or her child needs to appoint a temporary guardian, the court will almost always approve that choice. Parents can also nominate a potential guardian in case they are ever incapacitated. This choice is not automatic, since the court will want to check that the nominated guardian is able to currently serve in the role when needed, but the judge gives the nomination great weight. In cases where someone becomes incapacitated without a nominated guardian, the court will appoint a guardian after listening to the recommendations of family members and other interested parties.

How is Adoption Different Than Guardianship?

Adoption can be similar to permanent guardianship in many practical daily aspects, but there are important legal differences. First, if the parents are still living, adoption permanently ends their parental rights, while guardianship does not. A living parent who appoints a guardian may still have a legal obligation to provide financial support for their child, while an adopted child is the sole responsibility of the adopting parents. Finally, the child doesn’t have any automatic rights to inherit from a guardian but do from adoptive parents the same as a biological child.

Because of the permanence of adoption, it would generally only be part of your estate plan in case you pass away. For situations where there is a chance of recovery, you would want to use a guardianship.

Can Divorced Parents Nominate a Guardian?

Since the courts will default to another parent with custody before a guardian, nominating a guardian when the parents are divorced is more complicated. If both parents can agree to nominate the same guardian, such as a godparent, the court would honor that nomination if something happened to both parents. If each parent nominated a different guardian in their estate planning documents, it would first depend on which parent last had custody. For example, if something happened to the mother, the father took custody, and then something happened to the father, the court would start with the guardian the father nominated. However, both sides of the family would be able to appear in court and ask for a different guardian, and the court would act in the best interests of the child.

What About Grandparents?

In most situations, grandparents don’t have automatic legal rights to care for their grandchildren. This doesn’t mean the children can’t spend a week with grandma and grandpa, but grandparents don’t have the authority to make important legal decisions. If something happened to the parents, schools, doctors, and others couldn’t automatically treat the grandparents as guardians.

Of course, in many families, having the grandparents step in would be best for everyone. Judges understand this and favor awarding custody or guardianship in the right situations. You just need to make the appropriate legal arrangements rather than assuming the grandparents could automatically step in.

How Do You Terminate Custody or Guardianship?

In most custody cases, the more appropriate course of action is to request a modification of custody due to a significant change in circumstances. However, the other parent or another person may petition for termination of custody in cases of abuse or neglect.

Where guardianship is voluntary, such as a parent appointing a temporary guardian while they are away, the parent can terminate the guardianship at virtually any time for virtually any reason. Where the parent is incapacitated, members of the family may petition the court stating why the current guardian isn’t fulfilling his or her duties or why a new guardian would be better for the child.

What Happens if a Guardian Dies?

If a guardian dies or is otherwise unable to fulfill his or her duties, the court will obviously end the guardianship. However, the guardian is not treated as a parent for the purposes of appointing a new guardian. Instead of the guardian nominating a successor guardian, the court will look back to see if the parent nominated an alternate guardian. Otherwise, the judge will again listen to any recommendations from family members in trying to determine the best interests of the child.

Do You Need an Attorney?

It can be a good idea to have an attorney help you to properly establish a guardianship to care for your child should the unthinkable happen to you. To learn more about what you need to do, talk to one of the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lilac City Law. We’re conveniently located in Spokane and serve the surrounding communities.

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What is Permanent Guardianship & Why Does It Matter?

What is Permanent Guardianship & Why Does It Matter?

The importance of selecting a viable guardian early in a child’s life cannot be understated. In the event a parent passes prematurely or becomes unable to deliver the caregiving needs of a minor child, having a responsible and loving family member or trusted friend ready may prove invaluable. Without someone who has the force of law behind them, your child’s future remains uncertain.

A legal guardianship is not an informal agreement between family members and loved ones. While parents can discuss and agree that a sibling or grandparent would do the right thing in the event of a tragedy or setback, the courts hold sway unless you have a binding determined estate plan in place. That’s why it’s imperative to work with an experienced attorney to create legally-binding documents that ensure the health and welfare of your child’s future. That being said, these are elements of permanent guardianship parents would be wise to promptly consider.

Guardians & Parental Rights

People who do not work in the legal system are often surprised to discover that the family court does not necessarily handle guardianships. In most cases, family court judges decide child-rearing issues such as custody, visitation, and support, among others. Generally, probate handles guardianships because they are more closely related to Last Wills and other aspects of estate planning. So, in terms of guardianships coming into conflict with proceedings such as divorce or parental estrangement, cases are often referred to the probate system.

Although the discussion here remains focused on permanent guardianship, there are many instances when parents or the courts designate temporary status. For example, there are times when a child’s parent(s) are unable to provide care, support, or make consistent decisions due to temporary incapacitation. In such instances, they could transfer authority to their designee until they are able to resume parental responsibilities. In such instances, the parent does not necessarily surrender their primary rights.

Opting for a court-approved temporary guardianship should not be taken lightly by parents. When circumstances dictate that a disability, health condition, or addiction crisis renders a parent unsuitable to handle day-to-day caregiving functions, the court may find that it’s in the child’s best interest to terminate parental rights at some juncture. In such instances, guardianships are converted from temporary to permanent even against the parent’s wishes. That’s why it’s crucial to work with an experienced attorney when agreeing to temporary guardianship.

Making A Temporary Guardianship Permanent

Although temporary guardianships are intended to come to a logical end, sometimes circumstances require change. This may be the case when someone takes on the guardianship believing a parent will recovery from their challenge or condition within a reasonable time frame. Tragically, when parents lose their battle with health and wellness matters, permanence and stability tend to be in the child’s best interest. These are common reasons people petition the court for permanent guardianships.

  • The remaining parent passes away due to illness
  • The parent(s) has been incarcerated permanently or beyond the child reaching 18 years old
  • The parent can no longer adequately care for the minor child

When a guardian wishes to change the court-mandated designation to a permanent one, there are procedural steps that must be undertaken. It’s essential to work with an experienced attorney in such matters because the court bureaucracy can be difficult to negotiate, and missteps often prove costly.

Start by scheduling an appointment with an experienced attorney to gain insight about what permanent guardianship entails. Before making this extraordinary commitment, it’s important to understand all the rights and obligations that come with it in order to make an informed decision. If you still wish to proceed, these are legal hurdles that will need to be addressed.

Meet Court Requirements

The court’s responsibility in this process is to always protect the child’s best interests. The desires of well-meaning adults run a distant second. That’s largely why Washington State, and many others, set a stringent standard for permanent guardians. These are items required under Washington State’s Certified Professional Guardianship Program.

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Have no felony convictions on your record
  • Have no misdemeanor convictions that involve moral deficiencies
  • Be of sound mind and a person the court deems suitable
  • Demonstrate financial stability and a reasonably good credit rating

Although family members may not be petitioning the court under this specific program, its requirements highlight that you will need to make a persuasive case to a judge.

Gain Parent of Current Caregiver’s Consent

In instances where the parent can no longer raise the child or someone else has a temporary arrangement, a family member or interested third-party can petition to have the temporary order transferred to them and enhanced to a permanent one. One of the ways this pathway can be processed more seamlessly is with the current caregiver’s permission. By securing an affidavit to that effect, the court may be more inclined to grant the petition.

Provide Notice To Interest Parties

Once your attorney has completed your petition and filed with the court, all relevant parties must be notified in a timely fashion. This may include living parents, family members, and pertinent people in the child’s life that may also want to take on the guardian role. Make certain that your attorney has a list of all pertinent family members and potentially interested parties. Failing to complete this procedural step could upend the process or result in civil litigation brought by a family member or person with standing.

Your Day In Court

The fundamental question the judge considers when making someone a permanent or temporary guardian for that matter is whether the legal designation serves the child’s best interest. The judge will weigh a wide range of facts in reaching a conclusion. These may include the following.

  • Emotional bonds between the child and potential caregivers
  • Ability to provide necessities such as a safe, stable home, food, and medical care
  • Financial stability of the guardian candidate
  • Educational background and employment history
  • Issues involving previous alcohol or substance abuse
  • Mental and emotional fitness of the prospective guardian

You can anticipate answering pointed questions asked by the judge or any parties who oppose or have an interest in the petition. Securing permanent status can be something of an uphill battle when competing interests come into play.

What Parents Should Consider When Choosing A Permanent Guardian

In many cases, permanent guardianships are established by parents through estate planning documents. Parents who take such proactive measures understand that they are ensuring their child will be in good hands should they die prematurely or be otherwise unable to provide adequate care.

Ranked among the most significant challenges parents face is making an informed decision about whom to nominate. But by taking time to think through the process and weigh your options, you will be able to select the best possible candidate. These are things to consider.  

  • Consider Your Core Values: Although you may be immersed in a loving family, child-rearing remains deeply personal. Parents, siblings, and other loved ones may or may not share your core values. Take an inventory about issues such as religion, political perspectives, education, integrity, and other things that truly matter. Then, see who best mirrors your core values and would make a suitable guardian if necessary.
  • Multiple Guardian Option: While it may be somewhat uncommon, there are times when the designated guardian becomes unable or unwilling to fulfill the duty. That’s why it’s in the parents’ best interest to include an alternative in your estate planning documents.
  • Financial Stability: We live in a world in which financial security matters. A guardian who manages money well may be more likely to sustain a healthy and secure home life for your child. This person may also be asked to manage any assets to support the minor or work cooperatively with your estate’s trustee.
  • Speak To Your Family: Having an open and honest discussion about your desire to enlist a family member or loved one as a potential guardian must be treated with care and compassion. Take the time to explain your reasoning in a way that does not slight or otherwise make people feel less than adequate. You are basing the decision on what you perceive as an upbringing most closely aligned with your wishes. It may be worthwhile that while you respect others’ values and abilities, there are specific reasons for your choice.

Once you have reached an agreement with a guardian candidate, it’s vital to follow through with an attorney and make the designation legally binding.

Work With An Experienced Permanent Guardian Attorney

One of the most proactive measures to ensure that your child will grow up in a safe and healthy environment if something happens to you is designating a guardian in your estate planning documents. Giving the right person the ability to make essential life decisions allows you to provide care and comfort, even in your absence. If you have not yet designated a legal guardian or would like to update an existing plan, contact Lilac City Law today.  

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What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem represents the best interests of a child in court. A guardian ad litem can also represent an adult who is incapacitated or has diminished mental capacity.

What’s the Difference Between a Guardian ad Litem and an Attorney?

A guardian ad litem does not perform the same tasks as an attorney. They may make recommendations to the judge or investigate certain facts at the request of the judge, but they don’t argue on behalf of the person they’re representing in the same way as an attorney. In some cases, the guardian ad litem may represent someone who isn’t a named party in the case, such as a child in a divorce proceeding.

When is a Guardian Ad Litem Used?

A guardian ad litem may be used in several different types of cases.

  • Divorce or custody proceedings to represent any children.
  • Child abuse investigations.
  • Foster care or removal cases.
  • Determining whether an adult has full mental capacity.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

The guardian ad litem works for the interests of a specific person, but their true role is to work for the judge rather than directly for that person. The judge may ask them to find out certain facts, to monitor certain activities, and to present a report in court. Exactly what the judge asks of the guardian ad litem depends on the case.

Does the Guardian Ad Litem Make any Decisions?

The guardian ad litem makes no legally binding decisions. Through their investigation and experience, they may come to a certain conclusion about what they think should happen. However, the judge retains the final authority to overrule them or request additional information in areas the guardian ad litem may not have considered.

What Does Ad Litem Mean?

Ad litem is Latin for “for the purposes of the suit.” The appointed person takes on the role of the guardian but only for the specific purposes being discussed in court and only for as much time as it takes to resolve the court case.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do for Your Children in Estate Planning?

If something happens to you, a guardian ad litem can play several roles for your children in executing your estate plan. One duty is to monitor the probate process and ensure that your child receives what you intended in a way that benefits him or her. A guardian ad litem can also help your child through any guardianship proceedings including both making sure your stated wishes are honored and helping the court gain an objective view of what’s best in situations you may not have considered.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do for an Incapacitated Adult?

A guardian ad litem speaks on behalf of an incapacitated adult in any court proceedings necessary to execute his or her estate plan. The guardian ad litem can also serve as a go-between between the court and medical professionals to help the court of a neutral understanding of what doctors are recommending without having to call the doctors to testify in court.

How Does a Guardian Ad Litem Receive Compensation?

Guardian ad litems are paid by the parties receiving the benefit of their services. In a family court case, the parents may split the cost. In an estate administration case, the guardian ad litem may be paid out of the estate. In an incapacitation case, the guardian ad litem may be paid out of the incapacitated person’s assets.

Who Picks the Guardian Ad Litem?

The court appoints a guardian ad litem from a list of qualified individuals. It’s possible to nominate a guardian ad litem, but they need to be court-approved.

What Does it Take to Become a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem must complete a training course sponsored by the court. They also need several years of experience in social work, dealing with children or the elderly, dealing with people with disabilities, or in related fields.

Do You Want to Have a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem can be a useful advocate in certain court proceedings. However, you may be worried about the cost or whether the guardian ad litem would really be able to follow your wishes. The key thing to remember is that guardian ad litems do the most in contested court cases. If you can avoid the need to have a judge making decisions, you can avoid the need for a guardian ad litem. This might be by creating a thorough estate plan that covers every potential scenario so that the judge has a clear understanding of what you want without needing to rely on outside input.

What Can You Do if You Disagree with the Guardian Ad Litem?

If you are the person being represented by the guardian ad litem, you can petition the court to find you mentally fit to speak for yourself. Even if the court finds that you don’t have the capacity to do so, the judge can still give weight to your requests in consideration with any feedback from your healthcare providers.

If the guardian ad litem is representing a child or another family member, the first step is to speak to them directly. They generally want to have as full an understanding of your family picture as possible and may not even be aware of your concerns. If this doesn’t work or you believe that they’re abusing their position,  you can make a motion with the judge overseeing the case to take a certain action or, in extreme circumstances, to remove the guardian ad litem.

What Happens When the Guardian Ad Litem Goes to Court?

The guardian ad litem may create a written report to submit to the judge. Any parties in the court action will generally be given a copy along with time to review it before the judge makes any final decisions. The guardian ad litem also usually makes a verbal report during a court session. The judge may ask questions, and the parties will usually be able to ask questions or speak as well. In more contested situations, this may turn into a more formal cross-examination like any other witness.

Remember, that the guardian ad litem is there to represent the best interests of a child or incapacitated person rather than to win a case. The best approach if you disagree with their findings is often to bring out new facts or things they didn’t consider rather than directly arguing against their recommendation.

Do You Still Need an Attorney if You Have a Guardian ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is not a replacement for an attorney. The guardian ad litem helps to establish facts that an incapacitated person may not be able to bring up on their own. An attorney focuses on how those facts fit within legal rights and principles. An attorney also helps to figure out the best way to legally achieve the desired outcome and to prepare any necessary documents. Further, an attorney can only act for a competent client — either directly or under the guidance of someone else — so an incapacitated person needs more than just an attorney.

Does A Guardian Ad Litem Replace a Guardian or Conservator?

A guardian ad litem also doesn’t replace a guardian, conservator, estate administrator, or other similar roles. The guardian ad litem may monitor daily activities, but their job isn’t to run them. Their job is to observe and report back to the court. You will need to have someone else to manage the daily affairs or yourself or your children. A guardian or conservator are often also expected to report to the court, but the guardian ad litem provides an additional person to do things like monitoring how the guardian or conservator is managing your finances.

Work with an Attorney

The key to properly using a guardian ad litem and not having any surprises is proactive planning. Whether you’d want or not want to have a guardian ad litem overseeing things, you want that decision to be in your control. You do that by having a thorough estate plan for your family. To learn more, talk to one of the estate planning attorneys at Lilac City Law in Spokane, Washington, today.

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How To Prevent My Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court

How To Prevent My Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court

If something happens to you and you’re unable to care for your children, the court system may step in. Making a child a ward of the court is only a last resort. If you’ve already made other arrangements, the court system would prefer to honor those arrangements as long as they account for your children’s best interests.

What is a Ward of the Court?

A ward of the court is a child who is under the care of the court system. The court monitors the child’s education, healthcare, finances, and other needs. The court may appoint a guardian for the child, or the child may be placed into foster care.

When Can a Child Become a Ward of the Court?

A child can become a ward of the court when their parents are unable to care for them. This can happen involuntarily in cases of abuse or neglect. In an estate planning context, it may be due to the death of the parents or an incapacitating illness or injury.

This process isn’t ideal for the children or their families, so it’s only used as a backup plan. If there are other arrangements, such as a nominated guardian who has the financial ability to care for the child, the court would rather entrust the care of the child to that person under the court’s supervision rather than having the state take responsibility for the child.

What Happens if Something Happens to the Parents?

If a child’s parents suffer a sudden accident or injury, a number of legal processes will begin. If the parents never return to pick up their children at school or some other location, the adults there will try to reach the emergency contacts the parents previously provided. If they can’t reach any family members or friends to take temporary care of the child, they may notify police or child protective services.

While the preferred option is to get the children with someone they know as quickly as possible, that is only a temporary solution. Without prior planning by the parents, they won’t have the legal authority to make important decisions for the children or even to maintain custody without a separate court process.

If there is no one willing or able to take care of the children, they may be brought to a shelter or placed into foster care.

Can a Parent Stop a Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court?

If you’re charged with abuse or neglect, you have due process rights to protect your parental rights and can work with an attorney who practices in that area to maintain custody. If you die or become incapacitated, it’s simply impossible to go to court and fight for your children. Since it’s this latter scenario that you’re trying to prevent through estate planning, the only way to prevent your child from becoming a ward of the court is to plan ahead.

How to Decide Who Takes Care of Your Children

If you want to decide who takes care of your children instead of having a court do it, there are a few steps you need to take.

Update Your Emergency Contacts

Schools, daycares, and anyone else who takes care of your children for the day will usually ask for a list of people who are authorized to pick up your children. This should include who should pick them up in an emergency when you can’t be reached. Your children should also know the name and phone number of a relative or close friend to call in an emergency.

Keep in mind this is just a temporary arrangement. Even if your selected person is willing to care for your children indefinitely, they won’t have legal authority to make decisions for them at the doctor, school, bank, or other important places.

Nominate a Guardian

A more permanent solution is to nominate a guardian. A guardian takes full care of your children with the same authority of a parent. While the court technically selects the guardian, it will honor a parent’s wishes as long as the nominated guardian is suitable. If your chosen guardian lives out of state, you may wish to also nominate a local temporary or backup guardian until the permanent guardian can arrive or your family can arrange for the children to move to the permanent guardian.

Create a Power of Attorney

You can also create a power of attorney for your children. This is similar to a guardianship in that you can grant your selected agent full authority to do anything you could, but it’s more temporary. A power of attorney can help in cases of temporary illness or if something happens to one parent while the other is traveling away from home.

Appoint a Conservator

A conservator is similar to a guardian but only handles financial affairs while another guardian handles everything else. Some parents worry about a guardian misusing assets the parents left for their children’s benefit. While courts do monitor guardians, some financial abuses can go unnoticed by the court if another family member isn’t aware to bring it to the court’s attention. Appointing a separate conservator provides a more direct form of oversight.

How to Provide for Your Children Financially

When courts are reviewing who will care for children, they consider financial means. A family member who you would like to be the guardian may not have the income or assets needed to raise your children. While the guardian generally doesn’t legally have personal liability for childcare expenses, your children do need some source of money in order to not become wards of the court. You have several options to achieve this.

Life Insurance

Life insurance is one of the easiest ways to provide for your children. You can buy a policy that covers your future earnings or what you would have spent to raise them including college costs. You can name your children as beneficiaries, or have the money go into a trust on their behalf.

Will

You can also use your will to leave money to your children. Creating a will is a simple step, but it isn’t without pitfalls. A will has to go through probate, and if you have debts, your creditors may be entitled to repayment before your heirs receive anything. A will also provides the lowest degree of control over how the money you leave is spent.

Trust

A trust with your children as the beneficiary holds assets to your benefit during your life and then automatically transfers them to your children upon your death. Some of the major benefits of using a trust are that you can set it up to hold money until your children reach a certain age or to be used for a specific purpose.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

You should also prepare for a long-term illness or other incapacitation. Life insurance, wills, and trusts only work after death. If you are still alive, your family will need the legal authority to access your funds to use for your children.

A durable power of attorney kicks in on a triggering event you specify such as your hospitalization. You can give your power of attorney access to your checking account, or you can maintain a separate savings account with funds for your children in case of an emergency. To the extent you have funds available, this guarantees money will be available for your children regardless of your family’s willingness or ability to cover their expenses.

What Do You to With Your Plan?

Once you have a plan in place, make sure the right people know about it. Keep copies of everything with your other important documents, and tell your family where to find them. Anyone you select to care for your children should have their own copies to present to legal authorities if needed.

In addition, give age-appropriate information to your children. This can be as simple as telling a toddler to call grandma if you don’t answer or telling an older child their uncle will take care of them if anything ever happens to you. After a certain age, this can actually be comforting to children who may have seen movies about orphans and have their own worries about becoming wards of the court.

Get Help from an Attorney

Preventing your child from becoming a ward of the court requires proactive planning. To make sure you don’t miss anything and everything will work as you expect, talk to an estate planning attorney at Lilac City Law. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.

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Tenancy By the Entirety in Idaho Explained

Tenancy By the Entirety in Idaho Explained

When you’re married in Idaho, real estate and other property you acquire during the marriage is community property equally owned by the spouses. If one spouse dies, community property will usually pass to the other spouse, but there may be some special situations. You may also need to plan for separate property. A tenancy by the entirety is a common estate planning tool for married couples, but you’ll need to take a slightly different approach in Idaho.

Idaho Succession Rules When a Spouse Dies

When one spouse dies without a will (or with property not covered by a will) and leaves a surviving spouse, there are three possible outcomes under Idaho intestate succession laws.

  • With descendants: 100% of community property and 50% of separate property to surviving spouse. 50% of separate property to descendants.
  • With parents (no descendants): 100% of community property and 50% of separate property to surviving spouse. 50% of separate property to parents.
  • No descendants or parents: 100% of both community and separate property to surviving spouse.

These default rules may or may not be your intended outcome. For example, your home may be separate property because one spouse bought it before marriage or inherited it, but you may still want 100% of your home to go to your spouse instead of being divided. You may also wish to leave all or part of your share of community property to someone else.

You can achieve virtually any desired outcome using a will or other planning tools. You have the right to determine the disposition of your property including all separate property and your half of community property. It is often a good idea in a healthy marriage to discuss this with your spouse, but you have no legal obligation to do so unless you’ve entered into a separate legal arrangement.

What Does a Tenancy by the Entirety Do?

A tenancy by the entirety is a special way of holding title to a house or other property. It includes the following benefits and restrictions.

  • Both spouses own the property as a whole. They do not have individual control or property rights in “their half.”
  • A tenancy by the entirety can terminate by mutual agreement, death, or divorce.
  • Upon the death of one spouse, the property automatically passes in full to the other. It does not go through probate.
  • Individual creditors of one spouse generally can’t pursue a claim against the property.
  • An individual spouse can’t sell all or a portion of the property, or grant any type of interest in the property, without the consent of the other spouse. This includes using the property as collateral for a loan.

Does Idaho Recognize a Tenancy by the Entirety?

Idaho law does not recognize tenancies by the entirety. An Idaho bankruptcy court held that when a couple tries to establish a tenancy by the entirety, the jointly owned property is still subject to claims by each owner’s individual creditors (In re Antonie, 432 B.R. 843, 851 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2010)).

An Idaho ownership interest labeled as a tenancy by the entirety would typically actually be a joint tenancy with right of survivorship under the law. Tenancies by the entirety created in other states would also typically be treated as joint tenancies with right of survivorship if they now fall under Idaho jurisdiction (for example, the spouses moved from another state).

What is a Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship?

A joint tenancy with right of survivorship is similar to a tenancy by the entirety. Here are the key differences.

  • The owners can be anyone, related or unrelated, rather than just spouses.
  • Each owner has an equal share of ownership and full rights to use the property.
  • The right of survivorship means that if one owner dies, their interest passes to the other owner(s). The deceased owner’s heirs have no right to any share in the property or compensation for that owner’s share. For a married couple, the surviving spouse becomes the sole owner.
  • A joint tenant can sell or transfer their interest in the property without the consent of the other owner(s). This would change the ownership to a tenancy in common (no right of survivorship).
  • An individual owner’s creditors can make a claim against the property and force a sale.

What are the Downsides of a Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship?

The major downside of a joint tenancy with right of survivorship is the lack of protection against creditors. If one spouse has individual debts, from before the marriage or otherwise, the other spouse could also lose their home.

You may also have concerns about each spouse having unilateral control over their ownership interest. While they can’t sell the entire house without your consent if your name is on the title, such a move could potentially harm your ownership value.

What is a Tenancy in Common?

A tenancy in common is another way of owning property that doesn’t have special restrictions or protections. Each owner owns an equal share unless otherwise specified.

What if the House is Community Property?

If the house is community property and not held in any special form, it may still function similarly to a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. For this to work, the deceased spouse can’t have willed part or all of their share in the home to someone else. If you have concerns about this or over fairness when one spouse has large individual debt, you may wish to consider a prenuptial agreement or making alternative arrangements in your estate planning documents.

What if the House is Separate Property?

If the house is separate property and not held in any special form, it depends on whose separate property it was.

  • Separate property of deceased spouse with descendants or parents: The surviving spouse and descendants/parents each take half an ownership interest in the house. They would need to either agree on living arrangements or sell the house.
  • Separate property of deceased spouse without descendants or parents: The surviving spouse takes a full interest in the house.
  • Separate property of surviving spouse: The house was and remains the property of the surviving spouse.

If these are not your desired outcomes, you can use a joint tenancy with right of survivorship to guarantee that your spouse will become the sole owner. You can also use a will or other planning tools to do things like allow your spouse to live in the house for life before someone else inherits the house or to leave all or part of the house to someone else.

What About Other Property?

You can hold other property besides a house in a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. This can include bank accounts, brokerage accounts, or other assets. The joint tenancy with right of survivorship would work similarly to how it would for a house.

Can a Will or Trust Override a Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship?

A will or trust can only transfer what you own. The reason that a will can leave community property to someone other than your spouse is that you have the right to choose what to do with your half of the community property.

When you enter into a tenancy by the entirety or joint tenancy with right of survivorship, you agree to give up interest in the property on death. Therefore, the property skips probate, and your will or trust is disregarded.

Is it Hard to Create or End a Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship?

If both spouses are in agreement, buying property to be held as a joint tenancy with right of survivorship is essentially a matter of writing down the magic words when you buy the property. Similarly, all it takes to sell the property or change to a different form of ownership is for both spouses to sign off. If one spouse dies, the surviving spouse only needs to provide a death certificate to become sole owner.

Filling out the forms is only a small fraction of your lawyer’s job. The real challenge is making sure you hold the property in the right form of ownership for your family.

Schedule a Consultation with an Estate Planning Lawyer

If you’re considering a tenancy by the entirety or other options, talk to an estate planning lawyer about what’s right for you. Schedule a consultation with Lilac City Law now.

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12 Months of Estate Planning: A Plan to Get Your Estate Plan Set up in 2020

12 Months of Estate Planning: A Plan to Get Your Estate Plan Set up in 2020

Estate planning can be one of the most important things you do for your family’s future, but it can also be overwhelming. Between heavy subjects you don’t want to think about, the need to do a lot of paperwork, and everything else going on in your life, it can be too easy to keep putting off your estate plan until later. The problem is you never know when you will need it. Get started before it’s too late by doing just a little bit at a time.

January: Determine Your Goals

Who do you need to take care of? Do you have a spouse that relies on your income? Children that still need an education? Grandchildren that you want to give a head start in life? Charities or other important causes that you wish to support?

Your estate plan isn’t a chore you have to check off to be a responsible adult. It’s something you want to do to achieve your goals. There are many types of estate planning tools available that work best in different situations. To pick the right tools, you need to begin with a plan for what you want to do — just like drawing up the blueprints for a house.

February: Take Inventory

After you know who you want to support, you need to know how you can. What assets do you have? Your home? Cash savings? Investments? A business? Family heirlooms?

When you divide your estate, you may wish to provide some loved ones with financial support and others emotional support in the form of specific items that will mean more to them. It’s also important to understand that if you have any debts, your creditors will take precedence over your heirs, so you need to account for those as well.

March: Create a Will

Wills are the most common estate planning tool because they are the simplest way to ensure that each of your loved ones is cared for in the way that you’ve chosen. You can create a will on your own, but there are some legal technicalities that could leave your will open to challenges or having some of your wishes not honored. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid those complexities. Even if you plan to use other estate planning tools, having a will is still a good catchall for things that may not otherwise be covered.

April: Name Beneficiaries

When you name beneficiaries on your bank accounts and investment accounts, those accounts automatically go to your chosen beneficiaries upon your death. This allows those beneficiaries to receive financial support without having to wait for your will to go through probate.

The main benefit to taking this step is so that any family members who need immediate financial support can receive it. For example, if they relied on your income to cover their living expenses, they may not have enough money to buy groceries or to make rent or mortgage payments on your home that they continue to live in.

May: Consider a Trust

A trust is another way to keep assets out of probate and transfer them directly to family members. Again, the goal is to skip the weeks or months of delays it takes to execute your will in probate.

A trust can also be used to ensure that the funds you leave go towards your intended purpose. You may leave a trust for your spouse’s living expenses or your children’s schooling. You may also restrict your children’s or grandchildren’s access to their inheritance until they are older and wiser and will hopefully put it to good use.

June: Plan for Your Healthcare

In addition to planning for what happens after you’re gone, you also need to have plans for what happens if you can’t make decisions for yourself while you’re hospitalized for a serious accident or illness. Even in close families, family members may disagree about what you want, and doctors may not be able to legally follow their instructions.

To ensure your wishes are honored, consider a living will, advanced healthcare directive, or medical power of attorney. These documents allow you to designate a trusted loved one to make decisions on your behalf with full authority. You can also include any specific treatments or end-of-life options that you want your agent to request on your behalf.

July: Designate a Financial Power of Attorney

Like the person you select to make your healthcare decisions, your financial power of attorney will step in if you’re unable to manage your finances. A full durable financial power of attorney gives your agent the ability to manage your bills and assets if you’re ever temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

You can also use a financial power of attorney when you’re still able to care for yourself to some degree but need extra help with certain tasks. For example, you might sign a limited scope power of attorney allowing a loved one to manage your checking account and pay your bills.

August: Look Into Life Insurance

Life insurance is another tool you can use to provide for your family financially when you’re unable to. Many working people opt to buy a policy large enough to replace their expected future income to protect their spouse’s and children’s lifestyles that were planned around that income. You can also use life insurance to guard against things like medical debts from reducing what you can leave to your family.

As with your other assets, you will need to name one or more beneficiaries in your life insurance policy or provide for the cash value of the policy when you write your will.

September: Plan for Estate Taxes

Estate taxes generally only affect families with multi-million dollar net worths, but you still need to be aware of them. Estate taxes can be particularly devastating when your net worth is mostly in real estate, a business, or other non-liquid assets. This type of situation often forces a family to sell a treasured home or multi-generational business to pay the tax bill. By planning how you structure your estate ahead of time, you can avoid taxes or at least make sure your family will have the ability to pay them.

October: Protect Your Business

In one sense, a business is like any other asset. You can leave it in your will to a loved one, or it can be part of your general estate to be divided up between your heirs.

However, businesses also have to be maintained if they are to continue to provide for your family. The death of an owner or key employee can be highly disruptive to the business and possibly even put it out of business. You should create a succession plan that provides for continuity of operations no matter what happens and that also gradually prepares your loved ones to follow in your footsteps if that’s your goal.

November: Organize Everything

Your estate plan is no good if no one knows about it to put it into action. Keep all of your important documents together in a fireproof safe that your family knows the location of. You may also wish to leave copies with your attorney or in a bank safe deposit box. Again, tell your family.

When you have a medical power of attorney or financial power of attorney, give copies to your doctors or banks in advance. Don’t forget to give them updated documents if you change or cancel your existing plans.

December: Review Everything Each Year

When you stop to reflect on another year gone by, think about how the changes during the year will affect your family’s future. New children may be born, others may grow up and no longer need as much help, and you may have new wealth to consider. While you don’t need to redo your estate plan every year, you should update the relevant portions of it after major life changes so that it continues to meet your goals for your family.

Estate Planning with Lilac City Law

Lilac City provides a full range of estate planning services and can help you develop a comprehensive plan for you and your family. We can help you put it together over the next year or help you get it done even faster. To learn more, contact us now to schedule a consultation.

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What to Know During the Guardianship Nomination Process

What to Know During the Guardianship Nomination Process

If something happened to you and you were unable to take care of yourself or your children, who would step in? Ideally, it would be someone you chose. Nominating a guardian before something happens allows you to do just that.

What Is a Guardian?

Think back to school forms asking for a parent or legal guardian. A guardian is a person who takes care of someone else when that person is incompetent to handle their affairs on their own. This could be due to a serious injury or illness. When minor children are involved, they may need a guardian if both of their parents are incapacitated or pass away.

A guardianship will generally cover similar decisions to what a parent could make for a child — even when the person needing a guardian is an adult. This may include medical decisions and, for minors, other life decisions such as where to go to school.

Guardianships can also cover managing the person’s finances, but finances are sometimes broken up into a separate conservatorship. Exactly what a guardian or conservator can do will be spelled out when the court approves the guardianship or conservatorship.

How Is a Guardian Different From Godparents?

When your children were born or shortly after, you may have appointed godparents. Godparents are often expected to step in and take charge of the children if something happens to a parent, but appointing a godparent is largely a religious or ceremonial action. Godparents aren’t directly recognized under the law.

To give a godparent the legal authority to act, and avoid conflicts with other family members who may wish to step in instead, you will need to go through the legal process of appointing the godparents as guardians, trustees, or other legal roles.

How Is a Guardian Different from a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney might grant all of the powers that a guardian can exercise. The difference is mainly timing. You sign a power of attorney when you have full mental capacity. A guardian is only appointed after you’re incapacitated. Part of the guardianship appointment process can include reviewing the wishes you specified when you still had full mental capacity. However, a power of attorney cannot be executed if you have diminished mental capacity, and it may be voided if a court finds you lacked capacity when you signed it.

Because a power of attorney can be limited in scope based on how you had your lawyer word it, it may not cover all of the actions that need to be taken on your behalf. In those situations, a guardian would be appointed to fill in the gaps.

How Do You Select a Guardian for Yourself?

Like a person dying without a complete will, the law has default rules for how to select a guardian based on relationships and willingness to serve. The court will also consider the ability to do the job of each person who wants to be the guardian. This can lead to serious family conflicts and large legal bills when two family members wish to serve as the guardian and can’t come to an agreement.

To avoid these types of problems, you can nominate a guardian. The judge isn’t bound to follow your nomination but will give it great weight and will only overrule your nomination with a strong cause. The process is called nomination of guardian, and you can select any adult of sound mind. Like a will, the judge will review your selection to ensure you were mentally fit to make the decision and weren’t under duress or tricked into doing so.

How Do You Select a Guardian for Your Children?

The process for nominating a guardian for your children is similar to nominating a guardian for yourself. The only real difference is that it’s even more important to make your decision in advance so that your children can have a sense of stability and not be left hanging during long court battles.

You should, of course, also talk to potential guardians to see if they are willing to take on this responsibility. However, being nominated does not obligate the person to accept the judge’s appointment if the time ever comes. Therefore, you probably want to select at least one alternate.

Do You Need a Guardian If You Left a Trust for Your Children?

You may have set up a trust to provide for your children financially in case something happened to you. The trustee is then able to manage their financial affairs in accordance with the trust.

However, someone still needs to take custody of the children to manage their daily lives and important life decisions. This is where you need to nominate a guardian, and your estate planning documents should lay out the responsibilities of both the trustee and the guardian.

Who Supervises a Guardian?

Once appointed, a guardian must make regular reports to the court. This includes financial information as well as other major decisions. Other family members can also go to court to contest the guardianship if they believe the guardian is doing something improper.

What If There Is a Conflict Between a Guardianship and a Power of Attorney or Trust?

There should be no conflicts with a guardianship and power of attorney or trust because the court should appoint the guardian in consideration of other estate planning documents. The guardian should only carry out duties not already provided for. To avoid confusion, you should attach your other estate planning documents to your nomination of guardianship to ensure that the judge will be aware of their existence. If a power of attorney or trustee believes a guardian was appointed improperly or is going beyond their role, they can contest those actions in court.

Are There Downsides to Being a Guardian?

Whether a guardianship is for an adult or minor children, being appointed as a guardian is a major responsibility. Like a parent, it can mean making tough choices and sometimes needing to put the other person’s wellbeing before the guardian’s own. The nominated guardian will also need to go to court during the nomination process and will need to make ongoing reports to the court as long as they remain guardian. Being a guardian is a lifetime appointment unless the judge appoints someone else.

Does a Guardian Have to be Local?

A guardian can theoretically live anywhere in the world. However, the judge will want to make sure that the guardian will be able to effectively perform their responsibilities without being unduly impacted by long-distance. For minor children, since they will often go to live with the guardian, the judge may also consider how a move would impact their lives and their access to other family members. You can and should include your wishes on these issues in your planning documents so the judge can understand the choices you made and to avoid conflicts between family members.

If you’re relying on a long-distance guardian, you should also consider who will act in a sudden emergency such as you being rushed to a hospital. You may want to have an alternate power of attorney that gives a more nearby family member the power to act until your guardian is able to step in.

Who Pays for Legal Fees During Guardianship Proceedings?

Your appointed guardian should understand that they don’t have to take on legal costs. If you have liquid assets, the court will pay the attorneys reasonable fees from your funds — just like any other of your expenses would be handled. If you don’t have liquid assets, there is a special guardianship fund established by the government. In no cases does the appointed guardian pay for court fees, although you may wish to set aside money to cover other expenses they may face while acting as a guardian.

Please note that this is separate from creating your nomination of guardian documents. Those costs would be arranged between you and your attorney just like any other legal work.

How Quickly Can a Guardian Be Appointed?

Even for a nominated guardian who isn’t contested, the court process is usually measured in weeks if not months. During an emergency situation, your family could petition the court to appoint a temporary guardian pending full court review. This person could potentially be the guardian you nominated.

In more urgent circumstances, such as an emergency room doctor needing an immediate decision, any power of attorney or living will documents that you created and are readily available will be used. Otherwise, the hospital or other entity would attempt to contact your next of kin and follow their authority in accordance with local law.

Talk to an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

To learn more about how nominating a guardian fits in with your estate planning strategy or to start the nomination process, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney at Lilac City Law today.

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The Importance of Power of Attorney During Estate Planning

The Importance of Power of Attorney During Estate Planning

Your estate planning has many different parts that all need to move in the same direction in order to be successful. A vital part of this process is how to disseminate the various powers of attorney (POA). The POA will be one of the most important estate documents that you create, so you owe it to yourself to know as much as you can about it. Let’s take a look at just how important the POA is and how it will be used during the estate planning process.

What Is the Power of Attorney?

The power of attorney is the power to organize affairs on your behalf. There are different powers of attorney for different aspects of your life. For the purposes of this text, we will focus most on the financial POA, but there are also medical POAs and others that may apply during the estate process depending on circumstances.

In most cases, a power of attorney becomes effective immediately upon document execution. Contrary to popular belief, powers of attorney are not only for when a person becomes mentally incapable. In many cases, the POA document does not completely remove the power of the principal to manage their or her own affairs. The document simply grants the agent the power to act in place of the principal if needed. If the principal remains mentally competent, he can change the POA by replacing the agent or revoking the power totally.

However, the POA document truly becomes the most important document in the estate planning portfolio if a principal becomes somehow incapacitated or otherwise unable to handle their own affairs.

What Happens Without a Power of Attorney in Place

If a principal becomes incapable of handling their own affairs and has no power of attorney document in place, the family of the principal faces a potentially contentious situation. The POA document is the document on record of the wishes of the principal. Without it, there is no direct claim to the finances that the principal was in control of. Family members may begin to fight over the right to control things, especially if the estate is especially large or there are many valuable assets to consider.

In place of a designated person with the powers of attorney, the affected parties may agree to file for guardianship of the assets and property of the principal that has been disabled. Instead of simply following the wishes of the principal as mapped out in the POA, the family must now go through an often long and drawn-out court procedure.

The Process of Guardianship

During the court process of selecting a guardian, there will usually be a lawyer who is representing the Petitioner. The Petitioner is the individual who is looking to be named as the guardian. The Petitioner and their attorney will need to face, at the very least, an attorney who is in court to represent the rights of the person who has been disabled. No matter how close the family is, this process will likely generate thousands of dollars in legal fees in order to legally appoint the guardian.

Keep in mind also that a power of attorney document that is not clear may trigger this contentious process as well. You need to have the right attorney with the right experience in order to avoid these problems — just having a POA document that is not appropriate for your situation is not enough. A properly drafted power of attorney directly from the principal, while he is competent, is always preferable to a guardianship court proceeding.

Even when a legal guardianship is in place, the court maintains a Big Brother stance over the guardian to supervise the administration of the estate. Guardians are much less free to manage an estate than someone who is appointed through a power of attorney document. Guardians must always get the permission of the court to legally undertake many important assets that involve the estate, including paying the attorney’s fees for the procedure itself.

The court will also require that a guardian file an accounting of the estate on an annual basis. On top of this, a guardian must also file an inventory of the estate so that the court knows every activity that is taking place within the family estate. Having to report everything to the court undermines the very nature of a private estate, and it is much more expensive than a power of attorney transfer of responsibility. In most cases, the oversight of the court means that a family must employ more legal services in order to stay in compliance with regulations.

If you are in this sensitive situation, we can help you through it no matter who you may be up against. Do not hesitate to call us if you believe you have a legal claim to the estate of a family member who has been recently incapacitated.

Having an Effective POA

As mentioned before, the power of attorney that is set up by the principal must be well-drafted and relevant to the current situation. Otherwise, the court may trigger the guardianship process and all of the expenses and legal hassle that comes with it.

What makes a POA document effective during estate planning? Let’s take a look at the characteristics of an effective power of attorney.

  • Listing specific powers and limitations. A good power of attorney will list out the specific actions that an agent can take on behalf of a principal. Among these actions may be paying bills from the principal’s assets; managing those assets; selling all or part of the estate; and setting up various structures to avoid estate taxes. A principal may wish their estate to be used in a very specific way, and this is what the power of attorney should spell out in clear terms.
  • Language in the POA to persuade financial institutions to accept an agent. The financial institutions that did business with a principal are under no requirement to accept an agent, even from a properly worded POA. Many of these institutions now require language that is very specific in the POA to reaffirm that there is no funny business going on. Agents should also be prepared to reaffirm their responsibility, possibly on the financial institution’s proprietary forms.
  • Listing consolidated accounts. As a principal, if all of your accounts are kept spread out, your agent will have a tough time jumping through all of the hoops of the financial institutions want. Every bank is different. Consolidating accounts as you age not only helps to organize your family finances in the estate, but it also makes it easier to manage while you maintain control over them. You may want to list all of these accounts by name in the POA so that each financial institution can be more assured of your agent’s viability.
  • Decide on the type of POA. There are two major types of POAs that you can consider: the springing POA or the durable POA. The durable POA gives the power of attorney as soon as the principal signs it. The springing POA only takes effect in the event of a certain condition, such as the death, disability or incapacity of the principal. The timing of agent powers is a vital part of a POA. Without it, an agent may try to take over a principal’s estate too early and cause contention. Keep in mind that not all states allow springing POAs.
  • Define the conditions of incapacity. The last thing that you want is for someone else to determine when you are incapable of managing your own affairs. In your POA, you can name a medical professional to certify that you are incapacitated before your agent can take any action on your estate. This puts an added layer of protection in your POA, and it also gives your agent a good check against absolute power while you are still capable.
  • Establish oversight. Although your agent may have power of attorney, you can limit this right with certain oversights. The key is to make sure these oversights are written down specifically and fully clear to your attorney, to your agent, to the overseer and to anyone else who is involved in your estate.

Get Help with Powers of Attorney Today

The points above are just a few of the important aspects of the power of attorney document during estate planning. Every plan is different based on the individual needs of the estate. Make sure that you have the right attorney by your side when it is time to draft this essential document. Give us a call or an email with any questions that you may have about the process, or to get things started with your own POA. Time is of the essence, and there is no better time than now to get your affairs in order.

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Maximizing Tax Umbrellas for Estates

You have made it your life’s work to leave your family with substantial assets to provide for them after you are gone. Legacy is extremely difficult to build, but the estate tax law in the United States does not seem to take this into consideration.

Estate tax can rip as much as 40% of your family’s assets from them, depending on the value of your estate and its location in the country.

Right now is the time to protect your estate from federal and state taxes. If you take the time to create a well thought out plan, you can protect a great deal of the wealth than you have earned for your family.

Here are some powerful tips that you need to know.

Knowing Whether Your Estate Will Be Taxed

Estate taxes are not the same everywhere. Depending on the state you reside in, you do not have to be ultra-wealthy in order to be harshly taxed. Federal estate taxes have a minimum threshold that is in the million-dollar estate valuation, but states like Washington or Idaho can very easily tax middle-class families. If you are leaving behind any sort of investments, bank accounts, businesses, property or life insurance packages, the estate tax applies to you regardless of the size of that asset.

Also note, valuation is often subjective, and it is a discussion you should have with your estate planning attorney.  When it comes to estate taxes, you do not know whether the state will try to value your real estate or businesses higher than other sorts of appraisals – you should not leave it up to them to determine a fair valuation.

Geography is also something to take into account – if you live in a premium real estate location, just a couple of properties can push your entire estate value through the roof.  Sometimes this comes as a big surprise to the family after the passing of a loved one.  For example, the children of farmers often find themselves stuck with huge tax bills upon the death of a matriarch or patriarch because of the hidden value of the land on which the farm sits.

Providing Gifts and Charity the Smart Way

If you reduce the value of your estate through gifts to your children and grandchildren, that value cannot be counted against you for estate tax purposes. Every year, individuals save on the estate tax bill by giving away tens of thousands of dollars to their loved ones.

Moreover, making donations to charitable organizations is another great way to reduce your estate tax bill. These donations may also have an additional tax deduction attached to them. Donating to charity is a great way to ensure that the money you earn is used in the way that you prefer after you are gone.

Consult with your lawyer to learn how to maximize this benefit for your present taxes, as well as the ones that will impact your family after your passing.

Knowing When to Use Your Estate Tax Exemption

Everyone has a large (multimillion-dollar) tax exemption for estate taxes that can be used at any time, not only at the time of death. Knowing how to use the exemption can be an essential tool for reducing a tax bill before passing an asset on to a child.

So, what exactly is the estate tax exemption? Let’s say that you have an asset or an account that you expect to grow exponentially in the coming years. Right now, the value of that business is less than the estate tax minimum. In the future, you expect it to grow beyond this exemption. (In most cases, this type of asset will be a business.) Because you can use the lifetime exemption at any time, if you give away the business to a child or grandchild before it passes above the estate tax minimum limit, there will be no estate tax on the asset when you pass on.

Using a Trust Structure for Your Most Important and Valuable Assets

Establishing a trust is one of the best ways to avoid big out of pocket estate tax payments. Many people may hesitate at the idea of handing over large chunks of assets to others inside of a trust. However, the rules say that the person managing a trust can be a trusted family member, or even yourself.

A trust is one of the most sophisticated tax umbrella structures available to individuals. As such, it requires careful planning and coordination of care to establish & employ correctly. The type of trust that you choose can also make a difference.

If you are serious about preserving your legacy, it is essential that you craft your trusts with the right legal help.  

Using Life Insurance to Protect Your Assets

First, this is not financial advice.  However, life insurance is a conversation we often have with clients and there are certainly a lot of tie-ins to your insurance policies and a healthy estate plan. 

Some of the best life insurance policies, for high net worth individuals (HNWIs) for example, may include provisions for paying off any estate taxes that are due at the time of death. To enable this kind of benefit, you might want to, again, set up a trust.  Regardless, these financial maneuvers and plans should be discussed with your estate planning attorney. 

In short, using life insurance smartly is a great move for HNWIs who would be concerned about the effects of estate taxes on their heirs inheritance(s).

Additional Items to Consider Regarding Your Estate Taxes

Now that we have gone over a few strategies that you can employ to shield your assets from estate taxes, let’s go over a few things that you need to know so that you can go to your attorney as informed as possible.

  • A relatively new tax law (The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) allows you to give away slightly over $11 million over your lifetime in gifts that will not be taxed subsequently on your estate. This law will only last until the end of 2025. After that, it will fall back to $5 million, meaning that anything more that you give away may get taxed by the IRS starting in 2026.
  • If you are able to get your gifts to your loved ones before 2025, the United States Treasury and the IRS are likely to allow those transfers to stay as tax-favored gifts.
  • However, depending on your situation, using the “step-up” basis may actually save your family more money. The step-up basis allows an asset to be valued at its cost basis at the time of passage rather than at the time of acquisition. Stepping up the cost basis wipes out any paper profit the asset may have generated in the past, reducing the basis for the estate tax.

What Is the Answer? Get the Help That You Need Right Now.

We are here to help you with properly managing and maximizing the tax umbrellas available to you for your estate.

Protecting your estate is an ongoing responsibility – one that will require experienced legal assistance for the entire process of establishing your estate plan and modifying it over the coming years and decades, as necessary.

If you are ready to protect your hard-earned lifetime work, contact us today!

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Not a DIY Job: Why You Need an Attorney to Write a Will

About 60% of Americans do not have a will or a living trust.

Granted, thinking and planning for the end of life is not something anyone would be enthusiastic about. So, while most people know they should, they wait until later to write a will.

Unfortunately, the decision at most times is put off until it is too late. In fact, 55% of Americans die without ever having had a will.

Why Do You Need a Will?

If you pass away or become incapacitated without writing an enforceable will, your loved ones might be tied in the legal system battling for your property long after you are gone.

It also means that how you want your property divided or your remains disposed of is left in the hands of other people.

To avoid this, it is best to draw up a will as early on as possible and revisit it as necessary.

DIY vs. Legal Expert to Write a Will

First things first; do you need to pay a lawyer to draw up your will, or can you DIY?

The internet is awash with how to do wills, complete with templates, and so on. So yes, it is possible to do your own will. The most important question is this: should you?

And if you do, will it be valid and enforceable in a court of law? Hiring a lawyer ensures that what you want is captured accurately because you will not be there to speak for yourself.

Here are three top reasons why you should let your attorney oversee this process.

1. Will vs. Estate Planning

A will is easy to DIY. However, hiring an estate planning lawyer to advise and oversee your estate planning is indispensable.

An estate plan is a detailed document that prepares for your death or disability.

This document will encompass your will, healthcare power of attorney document, financial power of attorney, and disposal of your final remains, among other things.

2. Legal Terms Can Be Your Undoing

You want your will to be interpreted exactly as you thought it out in your head. However, the words and phrasing you use can later be misinterpreted—intentionally or unintentionally.

Further, the various governing bodies and state regulations are fluid and are not easy to understand and keep up with.

However, this is an attorney’s job, so they are well-versed with phrasing, legal terms, and new regulations. When you bring a lawyer on board to handle your will, you are giving yourself the best chances of your will being enforced the way you want it.

3. Objectivity

A lawyer functions as a neutral party when drawing up a will. It is not uncommon for people to rush into doing a will after major fallouts where the main aim is to disinherit someone.

In such cases, your attorney can be objective and advise on this.

They are also able to look into the future outcomes of the decisions you make now. For example, an attorney can advise how to hold money or place it in a trust until the beneficiaries fulfill specific requirements.

They can also advise on who the executors should be so that, again, your wishes are honored after your passing.

The Verdict

All in all, you want not only to have your last wishes fulfilled, but you also want your family to have a sense of normalcy as soon as possible after your passing. When you write a will, this is achievable.

Would you like to talk to someone about drafting or amending an existing will? Contact us, and we will be happy to hold your hand through the process.

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