What Estate Planning Mistakes Do People Make?

Clients often make these estate planning mistakes which jeopardize family harmony and expose families to anxiety, delay and unnecessary cost.

Estate planning for any sized estate is an important responsibility to loved ones. Done correctly, it can help families flourish over generations, control how legacies are distributed and convey values from parents to children to grandchildren. However, a failed estate plan, says a recent article from Suffolk News-Herald titled “Estate planning mistakes to avoid,” can create bitter divisions between family members, become an expensive burden and even add unnecessary stress to a time of intense grief.

Here are some estate planning mistakes to avoid:

This is not the time for do-it-yourself estate planning.

An unexpected example comes from the late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger.  He wrote a 176 word will, which cost his heirs more than $450,000 in estate taxes and fees. A properly prepared estate plan could have saved the family a huge amount of money, time and anxiety.  This example also points out that even brilliant legal minds make mistakes if they aren’t experts in this area!

Don’t neglect to update your will or trust.

Life happens and relationships change. When a new person enters your life, whether by birth, adoption, marriage or other event, your estate planning wishes may change. The same goes for people departing your life. Death and divorce should always trigger an estate plan review.  Clients often confront this estate planning mistake at this time of year as part of new years resolutions or as part of a financial check-up with their financial advisors, so now is an excellent time to consider it.

Don’t be coy with heirs about your estate plan.

Heirs don’t need to know down to the penny what you intend to leave them but be wise enough to convey your purpose and intentions, at least to the individuals in charge of the plan. If you are leaving more uneven amounts to children for example, it may be a kindness to explain why to your love ones.  Otherwise, they will be forced to come up with their own answers, which may lead to fighting. If you want your family to remain a family, share your thinking and your goals.

If there are certain possessions you know your family members value, making a list those items and who should get what. This will avoid family squabbles during a difficult time. Often it is not the money, but the sentimental items that cause family fights after a parent dies.  Some of the worst estate disputes I’ve ever dealt with were over sentimental items.

Clients often ask about this topic, so see this article if you are interested in more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-to-avoid-family-fighting-in-my-estate/  

Understand what happens if you are not married to your partner.

Unmarried partners do not receive many of the estate tax breaks or other benefits of the law enjoyed by married couples. Unless you have an estate plan in place, your partner will not be protected. Owning property jointly is just one part of an estate plan. Sit down with an experienced estate planning attorney to protect each other. The same applies to planning for incapacity. You will want to have appropriate incapacity planning documents such as financial and medical Powers of Attorney so that you may speak with each other’s financial institutions and medical providers.

Don’t neglect to fund a trust once it is created.

It’s easy to create a trust and it’s equally easy to forget to fund the trust. That means retitling assets that have been placed in the trust or adding enough assets to a trust, so it may function as designed. Failing to retitle assets has left many people with estate plans that did not work.  Happily this is a very easy estate planning mistake to correct, though you should consult an attorney on how to properly utilize your trust.

Don’t be naive about people you put in charge of your estate plan.

It is not pleasant to consider that people in your life may not be interested in your well-being, but in your finances or other self-serving motivations. However, we see this all the time. This concern must be confronted honestly, even when it is children, during the estate planning process. Elder financial abuse and scams are extremely common. Family members and seemingly devoted caregivers have often been found to have ulterior motives. Be smart enough to recognize when this occurs in your life.

Reference: Suffolk News-Herald (Dec. 15, 2020) “Estate planning mistakes to avoid”

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Long Distance Caregiving During These Difficult Times

A well thought out plan is the key to effective long distance caregiving.
A well thought out plan is the key to effective long distance caregiving.

Trying to coordinate long distance caregiving is a challenge for many. Add COVID-19 into the mix, and the situation becomes even more difficult, reports the article “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

If you are in the position of having to care for a loved one long distance, the starting point is to have the person you are caring for give you legal authorization to act on their behalf to make financial and medical decisions for them. A financial power of attorney (known as a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney in Texas) naming you as agent will allow you to help manage your loved one’s financial affairs.  It is also important that the person give you a HIPAA Release. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is the law that governs the use, disclosure and protection of sensitive patient information. With a HIPAA Release you will be able to receive medical information relating to the person you are caring for and to discuss matters with the person’s health care providers.

Next, find out where all of their important documents are, including insurance policies (long-term care, health, life, auto, home), Social Security and Medicare cards. You’ll also want to be able to access tax documents which will provide you with information on retirement accounts, bank accounts and investments. Don’t forget to ask your loved one for family documents, including birth, death, and marriage certificates, which may be necessary to claim benefits. Make copies of these documents so that you can make appropriate decisions for your loved one, even from a long distance.

Ask your family member whether he or she has completed their estate planning, and whether they want to make any changes. You may wish to review with your loved one changes that indicate when an estate plan should be updated. See https://www.galliganmanning.com/when-to-update-your-estate-plan/.

Put all of this information into a binder, so you have access to it easily.

Consider setting up a care plan for your family member to take care of things that come up when you can’t be there. Think about what kind of care do they have in place right now, and what do you anticipate they may need in the near future? There should also be a contingency plan for emergencies, which seem to occur when they are least expected and which make long distance caregiving especially difficult.

A geriatric care manager or a social worker who can do a needs assessment can help coordinate services, including shopping for groceries, administering medication and help with food preparation, bathing and dressing. If possible, develop a list of neighbors, friends or fellow worshippers who might create a local support system that compliments your long distance caregiving.

Keeping in touch is very important. These days, many are doing regular video calls with their family members. Conference calls with caregivers and your loved one is another way keep everyone in touch.

Long distance caregiving is difficult, but a well-thought out plan and preparing for all situations will make your loved one safer.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sep. 28, 2020) “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them”

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How to Become an Organ Donor

If you want to become an organ donor, you need to communicate your wishes.
If you want to become an organ donor, you need to communicate your wishes.

If you want to become an organ donor, you should communicate those wishes to the people who will carry them out.

Organ donation is one of the most regulated aspects of the healthcare industry, and the legalities of being an organ donor have very unique considerations. Essentially, organ donation is the physical transfer of the body parts of a person (the donor) to another person through surgical means. Organ donation can occur during the donor’s lifetime or at the organ donor’s death. Here we’re focusing primarily on the transfer of organs at the time of the organ donor’s death.

Although the need for organ donations is exceptionally high worldwide, the supply is often low. The lack of clearly communicated and documented consent by a potential organ donor is one of the most common challenges to organ donation. Despite an individual’s desire to donate organs, a failure to follow the right protocol can render the individual’s decision unenforceable.

What You Can Donate

Scientific advancements now allow for a single donor to donate organs to up to seventy-five donees. Organ donors can provide their kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and pancreas. Donors can also donate tissue such as bone, skin, tendons, corneas, bone marrow, and stem cells. There are even instances where hands and feet have been successfully transferred. However, for many of these organs, the transfer must be initiated within twenty-four hours. Additionally, each potential donor must be evaluated on a singular basis with respect to the particular organ at issue.

Alternatively, some donors are interested in donating their entire body to scientific research. If you are interested in this route, you must be careful to avoid organ donation opportunities because scientific research requires complete bodies. In such instances, identifying the scientific institute you are interested in donating to and working with that institute directly is the best method. As you work with them, be careful to document your specific intent to donate your remains to science.

Making Your Wishes Known

There are a number of ways to make your wishes regarding organ donation known and increase the likelihood that they will be enforced. The most effective approach is a comprehensive one. This involves registration as a donor, legal planning, and communication of your wishes. The first and most important step is registering as an organ donor, which you can do in two ways: (1) find your state’s unique registry on www.organdonor.org and register online or (2) register at your local department of motor vehicles. In the latter scenario, your license will likely state that you are an organ donor.

The next step you can take is ensuring your wishes are recorded in your estate planning documents. An advance healthcare directive and living will are key documents that can include your end-of-life wishes. Finally, to ensure that your wishes are known, communicate them to your friends and family. These are the people who will end up intimately involved with your end-of-life decisions. Carefully select your healthcare agent and clearly communicate to that agent your desire to donate your organs.

It is important to note that the steps described above should not be taken in isolation. This is particularly true regarding your estate plan and communication of your wishes to friends and family. If there are conflicts between your plan and what family members think your wishes are, some states give greater weight to the documents memorializing your wishes. Your estate plan should contain your wishes, as well as information on any donor registrations you have made. Your documented wishes should then be expressed to those closest to you and who will carry out your wishes after you pass away.

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