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The Real Cost of Estate Planning

The Real Cost of Estate Planning

Have you ever come across a deal that you really wanted to jump on, and for whatever reason, didn’t or felt like you couldn’t at the time?  And later, you looked back, and realized that you should have made the leap?

Bill Gates, at age 23, offered a majority share for his fledgling tech company, Microsoft, to Ross Perot, the President of Electronic Data Systems, for between $50 to $60 million.  Perot turned him down, thinking the price was too high.  Years later he told The Seattle Times, “I consider it one of the biggest business mistakes I’ve ever made.”

Estate planning has a window of opportunity, and after it closes, certain costs come into play.

Cost of Incapacity

One of my clients came to me after their spouse slipped in the shower and hit his head, severely injuring himself.  He was unable to anything, and unfortunately, they hadn’t done any prior planning, so he had no Durable Power of Attorney or Advance Health Care Directive in place.

Because of his new situation, major financial decisions needed to be made that required his signature, meaning that my client had to seek a conservatorship.

Another example is a young man who was in a severe auto accident.  He was over age 26, so he was off of his parent’s insurance, and happened to be in between jobs, so didn’t have his own coverage either.  His concerned father wanted to provide coverage, but needed the legal authority act on his son’s behalf.

A conservatorship is the court process to determine whether a person has the capacity to manage their legal, financial or health care decisions.  There are different levels of conservatorships, and the process is designed to protect the person who is going to be under the conservatorship.  As you can imagine, that process takes time.

It isn’t unusual for a conservatorship case to cost $3,000 or more.

Cost of Probate

Probate fees in California are based on the gross value of your estate, calculated as follows:

  • 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate.
  • 3% of the next $100,000.
  • 2% of the next $800,000.
  • 1% of the next $9 million.
  • .5% of the next $15 million.

That fee is effectively doubled because the executor gets the same amount.  There are other fees of course that go along with the attorney fee calculation, court costs, appraiser costs, etc.

Probate is a very lucrative business.

Cost of Litigation

A lack of a plan or a poor plan can lead to the heirs fighting in court.  Long hidden tensions can spring to the surface and essentially lead to the heirs spending the next decade or more in and out of court, with the final beneficiaries being the attorneys representing the litigants.

Cost of Guardianship

Let’s say your estate mainly consists of life insurance for your young family.  If something were to happen to you and your spouse, who manages the money?  You could give it outright to someone you trust.  You could set up a UTMA account with a custodian for your child.  You could set up a trust and empower the person you trust to manage the money for your child(ren).  But if you instead named your minor children directly, the state will take over managing the money for your children (and incidentally helping themselves to the interest).  The alternative is to petition for a guardianship, where the court will now supervise the guardians' use of the funds until your child turns age 18 when as a legal adult they are now able to manage the money themselves.

The typical cost to have an attorney set up a guardianship is $2,500 to $3,000.  And then there are the annual filings with the court, and the occasional petition to the court for permission to use the money in a particular way.

The Cost of Taxes

For high-net worth individuals, estate taxes are a significant expense, coming in at 40% of the estate or more.  Even if your estate isn’t over the $5 million-dollar mark, consider the impact of capital gains, managing basis, and other tax implications of the way you hold your asset, and the way your beneficiary receives their inheritance.

Opportunity Cost

When you create an estate plan with your voice, you can create your vision for the future.  You can create a plan that provides asset protection for your children or beneficiaries from creditors, divorcing spouses, and lawsuits.  You can provide asset protection for your spouse, and decide what happens if your spouse remarries.  You can provide for disabled or young beneficiaries.  You can decide what conditions your children have to meet before taking over managing their inheritance.  You can do all of these things, and more when you take the plunge and create your estate plan.

Tips On Implementing Your Estate Plan

Tips On Implementing Your Estate Plan

Assuming you’ve created a plan that contains your unique goals and wishes for your family, the next step is to ensure that your plan is carried out.  The first tip is to not hide your estate plan.  It’s easy to hang on to “important” paperwork for years, burying the legal “treasure” (your estate plan, and other helpful information) in a mountain of irrelevant papers.  Let’s create an effective map by following these steps:

Fully Fund for Future Feats of Family Fealty

Sorry, just like Jack Sparrow can’t resist Spanish gold, I can’t resist an alliteration.

When you leave assets out of your trust, the plan you carefully crafted with your attorney could go by the wayside.  Create your plan, then transfer your assets into it.  But beware – assets like life insurance and retirement plans have special rules; don’t transfer those assets into your trust without careful instructions from your attorney.

Communicate Clearly

There are two key things I think every parent should communicate to their family, no matter how private they wish to keep the other details of their estate plan.

The first is, tell people who will be in charge, especially the one who will be in charge.  The successor trustee needs to be ready to step in at the right time.  If they don’t know that they’re “it” they won’t know to act.  And everyone else needs to know who to talk to in order to get things moving.

The second thing is that the person who will be in charge next needs to know where the documents are.  And have the ability to get those documents.  If you use a bank safety deposit box, make sure their name is on the account for the box.  Bank safety deposit boxes often present a problem, because the legal documents granting you the authority to access the bank safety deposit box are locked securely in the safety deposit box.  A fire safe box at your home keeps the documents accessible while keeping them safe.

What You Don’t Have to Say

You don’t have to spill the beans on how much money you have or the details of all your assets.  How much, and where are details for another day.  But they are important details for that other day, as I discuss in the last point.

You don’t necessarily have to go into the details of who is getting what.  I do think generally the more you communicate on this point, the more problems you’ll avoid for your beneficiaries down the road.  If the conversation is going to be too awkward, work with your attorney to communicate some of the “why” behind what you’re doing, either in the estate plan or in a separate letter.  Confused kids cause chaos, and chaos leads to expensive litigation.

Create a Map for Later

Stop and think for a minute.  The person you’ve chosen to be the successor trustee has a big job.  At some point in the future, they’re going to be all alone, handling your affairs, using the information you’ve left behind.  Every year the state spends a lot of your money that sits unclaimed, mostly because the people who would have benefited from it had no idea that money was there.  We all have buried treasure; the question is what clues will we leave behind for those who follow.

Litter, Procrastination, and Making Your Kids Love You Forever

Litter, Procrastination, and Making Your Kids Love You Forever

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Growing up my family did a lot of camping.  Mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, desert, you name it, we probably set up a tent there.  Got to get up close and personal with some amazing places, and not just the usual Lake Tahoe, Yellowstone, Yosemite places. 

One of our rituals at the end of every trip was to pick up the camp site.  And by that, I mean we would scour the place.  By the time, we were done, it would look like only chipmunks had lived there. 

I’m sure the next person to arrive at our former campsite appreciated it. 

Question: when it’s time for your kids to handle your estate, what will they find?  A clean orderly campsite?

A friend of mine remarked recently, “If I don’t get an estate plan in place, my daughter will hate me forever.”  Probably a bit of an exaggeration.  Probably. 

Make your kids love you forever – leave a clean campsite. 

To get started with your estate plan, schedule your free vision meeting.  

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Three Reasons Not To Put Your Child on Your Bank Account

Three Reasons Not To Put Your Child on Your Bank Account

If you’re like most people, adding your child to your bank account seems like the easiest thing to do, rather than relying on legal documents like a power of attorney.  There are at least three reasons why this estate planning “shortcut” is a bad idea.

Your child may have to pay gift taxes if they do the “right thing” for their siblings

When you add your child to a bank account, they become a co-owner of the account, which means they become the sole owner of the account at your death.  Any money they give to their siblings or anyone else will be considered a gift, and will fall under gift tax rules, not under any inheritance rules.  Currently, the gift tax exclusion amount is $14,000.

You disinherit your other children

As one person found out when her sister decided to keep her father’s $100,000 bank account, there was nothing she could do.  Plus, the estate expenses were paid from other assets of the estate, and nothing from the bank account – that money now belongs to her sister.

You expose yourself to your child’s financial woes

The worst thing that could potentially happen to your bank account is to have your child’s own financial woes spill over and effect your account.  Because your child’s name is on the account, collectors, creditors, and litigants are all going to be looking at your bank account.  As a co-owner, your child can take money out for any reason, and you won’t have any recourse against them.  If your grandchildren are applying for college loans, your account could get in the way.

Adding a child to your bank account is one of many choices people make that have unexpected outcomes.  Consulting with a financial planner and an estate planning attorney can help you avoid these pitfalls.

To Protect Your Children’s Inheritance, You Don’t Have to Control It

To Protect Your Children’s Inheritance, You Don’t Have to Control It

An estate plan gives you lots of opportunities to define when and how your beneficiaries can use their inheritance.  Inheritance is a nice word for everything you’ve worked hard for all these years.  Maybe you want to specify that your children can only invest in tax free bonds, and can never use your money for a vacation ever, or maybe you don’t.  Either way, your estate plan can provide some pretty amazing legal protection for your beneficiaries without controlling their lives.

The “Old Way” of Trust Planning

Traditionally, trusts survived just long enough to avoid probate for Mom and Dad’s estate, and divide everything between the children.  At the end, the children now own everything directly, which sounds great.  Unfortunately, this exposes your hard earned money to your children’s creditors, lawsuits, and potentially, even divorcing spouses. 

The “New” Better Way

Instead of giving your children their inheritance outright, each beneficiary may instead receive their inheritance inside a special trust created by your own personal Living Trust.  This trust gives your child the benefits of ownership without the legal liability of ownership.  It’s like giving your children their inheritance inside an LLC without the expense and complication of the corporate overhead. 

How it Works

Let’s say Doctor Lenny inherits a home and some cash from his parents who had an “old” trust.  On his way to work the car in front of him stops suddenly causing Lenny to crash into the back end of a bright red Italian sports car.  Months later, and several attorneys later, Doctor Lenny hands over what is left of his assets to settle the lawsuit – his own assets and his inheritance, gone. 

If we rewind and give Doctor Lenny his inheritance in a “new” trust, his parent’s home and cash are now held in his own separate trust.  Same car crash, same lawsuit, and Doctor Lenny is handing over what is left of his assets – except the inheritance.  His parent’s house and cash are left untouched. 

Who it's For

If you would like your beneficiaries to think of their inheritance as capital to be wisely managed and invested, this type of trust is for you. 

Please note: any trust strategy alone does not guarantee “bulletproof” asset protection.  But it does offer dramatically increased protection over holding assets outright.  Before proceeding with any estate planning, you should consult with a qualified attorney.