super-hero-boyInheriting Money at a Young Age is Never a Good Idea

Whitney Houston’s estate was worth approximately $20 million when she died – plenty to meet the needs of her only daughter – Bobbi Kristina. Sadly, only a few years after Houston’s death, Bobbi Kristina died as well.

Although Bobbi Kristina’s previous boyfriend, Nick Gordon, is still a suspect in her murder, many say that having access to so much money at a young age was a contributing factor. Sadly, Houston’s estate planning mistakes are all too common.

Aunt & Grandmother Say Will Did Not Depict Houston’s Intentions

Houston’s aunt and grandmother filed a lawsuit to re-write the will as they say it didn’t accurately depict what Whitney really wanted for Bobbi-Kristina. They claimed that she was too young to handle so much money.

Although they likely had the best of intentions, probate courts must follow the terms of the actual will or trust documents, not what the person who died might have otherwise intended.

Whitney Houston’s will was created in 1993, specifying that a trust would be created after she died for any children she may have (so before Bobbi-Kristina was even born). Unfortunately, she never updated her will before she died.

You’ve Got to Have a Plan for Your Children

Whether this tragedy could have been adverted if Bobbi Kristina’s distributions were delayed until she was older is anyone’s guess. The bottom line is that inheriting large sums of money at a young is generally never a good idea. Although the young beneficiary might be responsible, young people can be easily manipulated by others.

While it’s clear that Houston could have better protected that money with a stronger estate plan, she’s certainly not the only one guilty of not following through. In fact, many of us have the best intentions, but simply don’t make the time to create – and update – proper estate planning documents that can help beneficiaries.

Set Your Children Up For Success!

You do have the power to set your young beneficiaries up for success. In most cases, that means creating a trust that allows them access to money over time and can be managed by someone you trust and has their best interests at heart.

We can provide you with the tools you need to protect your loved ones – whatever your situation may be. As Houston’s case shows, ignoring estate planning issues can have tragic consequences.  Contact us today and let’s get started protecting you and those you love. The Belleh Law Group, PLLC, Tel: (888) 450-7999; email: Info@bellehlaw.com; website: www.bellehlaw.com.

3 Asset Protection Tips You Can Use Now

moneyA common misconception is that only wealthy families and people in high risk professions need to put together an asset protection plan.  But in reality, anyone can be sued.  A car accident, foreclosure, unpaid medical bills, or an injured tenant can result in a monetary judgment that will decimate your finances.  Below are three tips that you can use right now to protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

 What Exactly is Asset Protection Planning?

Before getting to the tips, you need to understand what asset protection planning is all about.  In basic terms, asset protection planning is the use of legal structures and strategies to transform property that creditors might snatch away into property that is completely, or, at the very least, partially, protected.

Unfortunately, this type of planning cannot be done as a quick fix for your existing legal problems.  Instead, you must put an asset protection plan in place before a lawsuit is imminent, let alone filed at the courthouse.  So, now is the time to consider implementing one or more of these tips.

Now, on to the three tips.

Asset Protection Tip #1 – Load Up on Liability Insurance 

The first line of defense against liability is insurance, including homeowner’s, automobile, business, professional, malpractice, long-term care and umbrella policies.  Liability insurance not only provides a means to pay money damages, it often also includes payment of all or part of the legal fees associated with a lawsuit. If you do not have an umbrella policy, then now is the time to get one since it is relatively inexpensive when compared with more advanced ways to protect your assets.  You should also check all of your current insurance policies to determine if your policy limits are in line with your net worth and make adjustments as appropriate.  You should then review all of your policies on an annual basis to confirm that the coverage is still adequate and benefits have not been stripped to keep premiums the same.

Asset Protection Tip #2 – Maximize Contributions to Your 401(k) or IRA

Under federal law, tax-favored retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs (but excluding inherited IRAs) are protected from creditors in bankruptcy (with certain limitations).  Therefore, maximizing contributions to your company’s 401(k) plan is not only a smart way to increase your retirement savings, but it will also keep the investments away from creditors, predators and lawsuits.  On the other hand, if your company does not offer a 401(k) plan, then start investing in an IRA for the same reasons.

Asset Protection Tip #3 – Move Investment Real Estate into a Multi-Member LLC or Land Trust

If you are a landlord or a real estate flipper or investor, then aside from having good liability insurance, moving your real estate into a multi-member limited liability company (LLC) or land trust can be a great way to help protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

There are two types of liability that you should be concerned about with rental or investment property: (1) inside liability (where the rental or investment property is the source of the liability, like a slip and fall on the property, and the creditor wants to seize an LLC owner’s personal assets) and (2) outside liability (where the creditor of an LLC owner wants to seize LLC assets to satisfy the owner’s debt).

An LLC will limit your inside liability related to the real estate, such as a slip and fall accident on the front stairs of the property or a fire caused by faulty wiring located at the property, to the value of the property.  In addition, in many states the outside creditor of the member of an LLC cannot get their hands on the member’s ownership interest in the company (in some states this will only work for multi-member LLCs, while in others it will also work for a single member LLC).  This type of outside creditor protection is often referred to as “charging order” protection.  This means that a creditor will have to look to your liability insurance and any unprotected assets to collect on their claim.

If you are interested in asset protection planning for your investment real estate using an LLC, then you will need to work with an attorney who understands the LLC laws of the state where your property is located to insure that your LLC will protect you from both inside and outside liability. Contact our law firm today for a consultation www.bellehlaw.com or (888) 450-7999 or email us at info@bellehlaw.com

Life Insurance and Estate Planning: Protecting Your Beneficiaries’ Interests

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One misconception people have about life insurance is that naming beneficiaries is all you have to do to ensure the benefits of life insurance will be available for a surviving spouse, children, or other intended beneficiary. Life insurance is an important estate planning tool, but without certain protections in place, there’s no guarantee that your spouse or children will receive the benefit of your purchase of life insurance. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: David identifies his wife Betsy as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy. Betsy does receive the death benefit from the insurance policy, but when Betsy remarries, she adds her new husband’s name to the bank account. In so doing, she leaves the death benefit from David’s life insurance to her new husband, rather than to her children.

Example 2: Dawn, a single mother, names her 10-year-old son Mark as a beneficiary on her life insurance. She passes away when he is twelve. The court names a relative as a guardian or conservator for Mark until he is of age. By the time Mark reaches his 18th birthday, his inheritance has been partially spent down on court costs, attorney’s fees, and guardian or conservator fees.

One Solution: Use a Trust as the Beneficiary on Your Life Insurance. When estate planning, a common method for passing assets is by placing them in a trust, with a spouse or children as beneficiaries. The same approach may also be used for life insurance policy proceeds. You can designate the trust as the life insurance policy’s beneficiary, so the death benefits flow directly into the trust. Two popular ways to accomplish this:

Revocable Living Trust (RLT) Is the named beneficiary: This option works well for those who have a modest-sized estate or who have already set up a trust. Naming your RLT as a life insurance beneficiary simply adds those death benefits to what you already have in trust, payable only to beneficiaries of the trust itself. The benefit of this approach is that it instantly coordinates your life insurance proceeds with the rest of your estate plan.

Set up an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT): For an added layer of protection, an ILIT can both own the life insurance policy and be named as the beneficiary. As The Balance explains, this not only protects the death benefits from potential creditors and predators, but from estate taxes as well.

With the estate tax exemption at $5.49 million per person in 2017 and a potential repeal on the legislative agenda of President Trump and the Republican Congress, you may not need estate tax planning. But everyone who’s purchased life insurance needs to take an extra step to ensure your loved ones’ financial future. To discuss your best options for structuring your life insurance estate plan, give us a call today at (888) 450 -7999 or email: info@bellehlaw.com.

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The Perils of Joint Property

People often set up bank accounts or real estate so that they own it jointly with a spouse or other family member. The appeal of joint tenancy is that when one owner dies, the other will automatically inherit the property without it having to go through probate. Joint property is all perceived to be easy to setup since it can be done at the bank when opening an account or title company when buying real estate.

That’s all well and good, but joint ownership can also cause unintended consequences and complications. And it’s worth considering some of these, before deciding that joint ownership is the best way to pass on assets to your heirs. So let’s explore some of the common problems that can arise.

The other owner’s debts become your problem. Any debt or obligation incurred by the other owner could affect you. If the joint owner files bankruptcy, has a tax lien, or has a judgment against them, it could cause you to end up with a new co-owner – your old co-owner’s creditors!

Your property could end up belonging to someone you don’t intend.  Some of the most difficult situations come from blended families. If you own your property jointly with your spouse and you die, your spouse gets the property. On the surface, that may seem like what you intended, but what if your surviving spouse remarries? Your home could become shared between your spouse and her second spouse. And this gets especially complicated if there are children involved: Your property could conceivably go to children of the second marriage, rather than to your own.

You could accidentally disinherit family members.  If you designate someone as a joint owner and you die, you can’t control what she does with your property after your death. Perhaps you and an adult child co-owned a business. You may state in your will that the business should be equally shared with your spouse or divided between all of your kids; however, ownership goes to the survivor – regardless of what you put in your will.

You could have difficulty selling or refinancing your home.  All joint owners must sign off on a property sale. Depending on whether the other joint owners agree, you could end up at a standstill from the sales perspective. That is unless you’re willing to take the joint owner to court to force a sale of the property. (No one wants to sue their family members, not to mention the cost of the lawsuit.)

You might trigger unnecessary capital gains taxes.  When you sell a home for more than you paid for it, you usually pay capital gains taxes–based on the increase in value. Therefore, if you make an adult child a co-owner of your property, and you sell the property, you’re both responsible for the taxes. Your adult child may not be able to afford a tax bill based on decades of appreciation.

On the other hand, heirs only pay capital gains taxes based on the increase in value from when they inherited the asset, not from the day you first acquired it. So often, while people worry about estate taxes, in this case–inheriting a property (rather than jointly owning it) could save your heirs a fortune in income tax. And with today’s generous $5.49 million estate tax exemption, most of us don’t have to worry about the estate tax (but the income tax and capital gains tax hits almost everyone).

So what can you do? These decisions are too important and complex to be left to chance. Our team can assist you in planning to reduce estate taxes, avoid potential legal pitfalls, and set up a trust to protect your loved ones. We understand not only the legal issues but the complex layers of relationships involved in estate planning.  Contact us today for a consultation (888) 450-7999.

The Difference between Lifetime and Deathtime Planning… and Why a Comprehensive Plan Must Include Both

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According to a March 2017 survey by Caring.com, six out of ten Americans have no will or any other kind of estate planning. Many said they’d get around to it, eventually. When they’re old. (The survey did find that the elderly are much more likely to have some plan in place.) It’s all too clear that most of us think “estate planning” is a euphemism for “deathtime” planning. Indeed, in the Caring.com survey, one-third said that they did not need an estate plan because they did not have any assets to give away when they’d died.

However, comprehensive estate planning is not just deathtime planning. It’s lifetime planning, too. It’s about ensuring that your medical and financial decisions can be made by someone that you trust. Lifetime planning can help you address potential tax liabilities, find you benefit programs you may eligible for, and protect your family from costly guardianship or conservatorship court. It can make sure that a trusted party looks after and protects your affairs, if and when you’re not able to.

Lifetime Planning Tools

As estate planners, we have an arsenal of lifetime planning tools to benefit clients, and we can custom-tailor such plans to an individual’s needs. Here are a couple of the most common (and necessary) lifetime planning tools you should discuss with us.

Revocable living trusts

When people hear the word “trust,” they may think of “trust fund babies” or think that trusts are something only for the super-rich.

However, a trust is simply a legal tool that can help almost anyone with property – not just the wealthy. In a trust, assets you own are re-titled and transferred into the trust. When this happens, technically, you no longer own your real estate, stocks, bonds and similar properties. Instead, the trust owns them all. But you still control everything in the trust: You can buy and sell these assets as if they were still in your name. In fact, revocable living trusts don’t even change your income taxes while you’re alive. You continue to file your tax returns as you always have, making them very easy to administer while you’re alive. And as the creator, or settlor of the trust, you can continue to make changes to the trust as long you’re competent to do so.

Once you die, the trust becomes irrevocable, meaning its terms can’t generally be changed. At this point, your chosen successor trustee distributes assets to beneficiaries (the people, such as your spouse, children, a church, or other charity, you named to inherit from you). In many respects, the role of the trustee is similar to that of the executor of a will. But, a trustee of a fully funded trust doesn’t have to go through the public and expensive probate process. Trusts are private unlike wills, which can also provide valuable privacy to your family.

Durable power of attorney

Durable powers of attorney come in two forms. With a standard durable power of attorney, a person is legally designated to act on your behalf, in the ways specified in the document. You can make the durable power of attorney broad in scope or quite limited, and it becomes active as soon as you sign it. Under this document, the person may sign checks for you, enter contracts on your behalf, even buy or sell your assets. What they can do depends on what you authorized in the document.

In the case of a “springing” power of attorney (POA), also known as a conditional power of attorney, the person only has this authority if you become incapacitated. At that point, the POA “springs” into action. There is no “best” power of attorney. We’ll work with you to determine which is the best fit for your needs and goals.

Health Care Power of Attorney

In an instant, an accident can change a healthy, vigorous person into someone who can’t make her healthcare decisions. Others face a long decline in mental capacity because of a disease like Alzheimer’s. In either case, you want to empower those you trust to make medical decisions for you. Though health care legal documents vary somewhat by state, the general principle is that, through this document, you authorize someone to make medical decisions for you, if and when you no longer have the capacity to do so. You can also communicate your desired treatment and end-of-life care. However, those instructions may not be valid in every state.

A Holistic Approach

Lifetime planning is a comprehensive approach to estate planning. And while it addresses needs of the living, comprehensive planning may also improve the after-death part of your plan as well, because it can reduce family conflict and preserve assets against court control or interference in the event of incapacity.

Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney – Belleh Law Group, PLLC

For insight into how to establish a trust and implement other lifetime planning options, call us today to schedule a consultation. Info@bellehlaw.com, Tel: (888) 450-7999.

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Money Isn’t Everything in Estate Planning

How to Pass Your Stories and Values to the Future Generations

Money may be the most talked about wealth contained within a person’s estate, but the riches of their experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members down the line. Reinforcement of family traditions can be built into your estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and belongings. After all, what really makes a family a family is its values and traditions — not the way its finances read on paper.

It’s an excellent idea to hold a family meeting in which you discuss the sorts of things that matter to you most. In addition to the value of sharing your wisdom, you can also make it more likely that your heirs will handle their inheritance correctly if they understand the reasons behind your choices. This is just one of the many reasons to have a family discussion about your legacy and your estate plan.

How to tell your story through your estate plan

It’s a delight to get to hear your elders’ stories of their fondest memories and wildest adventures, as well as the struggles they overcame to get the family where it is today. This wisdom provides meaning for a financial legacy that otherwise might just be viewed as a windfall. As part of your estate and legacy planning, you can decide to record your own personal history. Here are a few ways:

  • Audio files: With the broad range of audio formats available today, you can record in the way that’s easiest for you – anything from a handheld cassette recorder to the Voice Memos app on your iPhone. There are some easy-to-use digitizing services that can compile your stories into audio files to make available to your family and descendants.
  • Video files: The same goes for home movies and other video recordings. Older film formats can be easily digitized and organized along with the videos from your phone. Today’s technology also makes it easier than ever to add narration (and context) to a video, making the story all the richer.
  • Photo albums: Many families have prized photo collections that catalog generations. It’s a tragedy when something like this is lost in a fire or extreme weather event, or even misplaced in a move. Creating a digital database is a favor to your family in more ways than one: Not only will they have access to these memories at any time, they can also feel secure knowing that these family treasures won’t be lost anytime soon and that multiple copies can be made for the different branches of the family.
  • Letters and other writings: If you enjoy writing, you can also include handwritten or typed letters or stories to your family members in your legacy plan to be received and read at the time of your choosing. You can also include past letters and postcards that might be tucked away in the attic. It’s not only a personal delight to relive the memories of the past by reviewing your old letters and postcards, but it’s also a great way for younger generations to get to know and sincerely appreciate your life journey and legacy.

Passing your values to the next generation

Some estate planning strategies blend your finances and personal values. For example, we might have a discussion on some of your core values in life. Whether you feel most passionate about the need for your beneficiaries to travel and gain worldly experience, continue a unique family tradition like sailing or astronomy, or support meaningful charitable or spiritual work, we can draft trusts that contain funds specifically set aside for these endeavors.

  • Educational trusts: If you value education, you might want to set up a trust to fund undergraduate and graduate degrees, med school, study abroad, or even community classes for your family’s future generations. Because of sharp increases in educational costs within the U.S., your grandchildren will likely stand to benefit immensely from an educational trust.
  • Incentive trusts: Similar to the way educational trusts set aside wealth for the purpose of funding a beneficiary’s schooling, incentive trusts can also help steer the course of your descendants’ lives be encouraging some paths while discouraging others. For example, an incentive trust could contain instructions for disbursements to be released when the beneficiary is working a part or full-time job. Or if family vacations were an important part of your upbringing, you could set aside funds specifically for your grandchildren to experience the same wonderful tradition you enjoyed.
  • Charitable trusts or foundations: Charitable trusts or foundations establish a family legacy of supporting a particular cause, but they also have the added financial benefit of reducing income and estate taxes. They are an excellent way to help a charitable organization that’s central to your core values and make your name associated with that philanthropic effort for generations to come.

Are you curious about exploring a few of these options in your estate and legacy plan? Give us a call today, and we can schedule an appointment to go over your many options for showcasing your memories and values in a long-lasting way that truly benefits your heirs.

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Tools You Can Use to Leave Words of Wisdom to the Next Generation

You come into the world a blank slate, and as you grow, you gain wisdom. You’ve planned your estate to leave physical assets to beneficiaries, so now think about leaving them something that’s just as important but less tangible: the hard-won wisdom you’ve accumulated over your life. Let your family and friends learn from your mistakes, and profit from your successes.

Living and Other Trusts

You probably know that a fully-funded living trust avoids probate. If you have concerns about some of your beneficiaries’ ability to handle a windfall, speak to an estate planning lawyer about some options you can include in your trust. For example, one option is an incentive trust, which pays out money when the beneficiary meets certain conditions, such as finishing college or staying clean and sober. An incentive trust combined with a personal statement or video explaining why you’ve put conditions on the beneficiary’s inheritance helps to pass along your wisdom to the next generation. You can let your heirs know that you love and care about them, and that’s why you took the actions you did with the trust. While an heir may resent the limitation at the time, he or she may look back and realize you did a wise thing, especially after they’ve lived and incorporated your wisdom into their life.

Video Wills

Video wills aren’t legally binding since the law requires that a will be a written document, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a video regarding your will as an adjunct to the written will. For example, suppose you left art, jewelry or other valuables to specific family members or friends. You might want to explain why you chose to leave that particular item to that person and perhaps share the article’s meaning to you on the video. (Hint: If you think one child might resent the giving of an item to a sibling, this can be a good way to explain your intentions.) Some attorneys use video to help prove you were competent if it includes footage of you signing of the written will. Whether this is a good option depends on state law and your circumstances, so this may not be recommended for you.

And of course, you can (and should!) create a personal video that has nothing to do with a will. If you have a family video collection, consider making a new video including favorite snippets and commenting on the earlier days. Time gives you perspective and appreciation, and those gifts are priceless. The memories and meaning that these videos have can be memorialized for generations to come.

The Old-Fashioned Way

Scrapbooking is a time-honored pastime that’s recently experienced a renaissance. Pass on journals, photos, newspaper clippings and other ephemera via scrapbooks or albums. You can leave specially constructed letters inside for your family and loved ones. While only one family member can have the physical scrapbook at any one time, digital scrapbooking tools are fast-evolving and now allow you to create either a digital version or multiple print copies so that all your loved ones can share your life and thoughts.

Charitable Planning

Many of us have a favorite charity and cause we supported during life. Estate planning offers many opportunities to continue to support these organizations via planned charitable giving, both during your lifetime and after your death. An estate planning attorney can discuss charitable planning options best suiting your situation. Two examples are the Charitable Lead Trusts which can provide an immediate charitable gift and Charitable Remainder Trusts which can support a loved one (or you) for a period of time with money eventually going to your chosen charity.  Leaving some of your estate to charity shows the next generation what mattered to you, and it encourages them to follow in your footsteps. While your heirs may not choose to fund the same organizations, you are setting an example of the importance of financially supporting charities close to your heart.

Business Succession Planning

If you own your company, business succession planning is crucial. Formal business succession planning, however, is just as important as your personal estate planning. It can make the difference in whether the company succeeds or fails, and the financial future of your family. But along with proper succession planning, a written statement or video to your board or employees helps enshrine your business’ mission, values, and tradition.

 Leave a History

When you’re bequeathing antiques, art, jewelry and the like, leave the beneficiary a history of the piece and why it was important to you. If it’s a family heirloom, write down whom it has passed to, from generation to generation. It’s possible the family ties outweigh the actual value of the item. Sharing these stories will make a family heirloom cherished all the more.

Regardless of how you’re leaving your memories and the meaning behind them to the next generation, you want to make sure that your family avoids unnecessary hassle and expense. Contact us today to discuss how we can implement a plan to leave the wisdom and wealth you’ve accumulated to your loved ones.

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3 Decidedly Dumb Ways to Leave an Inheritance for Your Children

3 Decidedly Dumb Ways to Leave an Inheritance for Your Children

 Estate planning offers many ways to leave your wealth to your children, but it’s just as important to know what not to do. Here are some things that are all-too-common, but textbook examples of what not to do or try….

“Oral Wills”

If you feel you have a good rapport with your family or don’t have many assets, you might be tempted simply to tell your children or loved ones how to handle your estate when you’re gone. However, even if your family members wanted to follow your directions, it may not be entirely up to them. Without a written document, any assets you own individually must go through probate, and “oral wills” have no weight in court. It would most likely be up to a judge and the intestate laws written by the legislature, not you or your desired heirs, to decide who gets what. This is one strategy to not even try.

Joint Tenancy

In lieu of setting up a trust, some people name their children as joint tenants on their properties. The appeal is that children should be able to assume full ownership when parents pass on, while keeping the property out of probate. However, this does not mean that the property is safe; it doesn’t insulate the property from taxes or creditors, including your children’s creditors, if they run into financial difficulty. Their debt could even result in a forced sale of your property.

There’s another issue. Choosing this approach exposes you to otherwise avoidable capital gains taxes. Here’s why. When you sell certain assets, the government taxes you. But you can deduct your cost basis—a measure of how much you’ve invested in it—from the selling price. For example, if you and your spouse bought vacant land for $200,000 and later sell it for $315,000, you’d only need to pay capital gains taxes on $115,000 (the increase in value).

However, your heirs can get a break on these taxes. For instance, let’s say you die, and the fair market value of the land at that time was $300,000. Since you used a trust rather than joint tenancy, your spouse’s cost basis is now $300,000 (the basis for the heirs gets “stepped-up” to its value at your death). So, if she then sells the property for $315,000, she only has to pay capital gains on $15,000, which is the gain that happened after your death! However, with joint tenancy, she does not receive the full step-up in basis, meaning she’ll pay more capital gains taxes.

Giving Away the Inheritance Early

Some parents choose to give children their inheritance early–either outright or incrementally over time. But this strategy comes with several pitfalls. First, if you want to avoid hefty gift taxes, you are limited to giving each child $14,000 per year. You can give more, but you start to use up your gift tax exemption and must file a gift tax return. Second, a smaller yearly amount might seem more like current expense money than the beginnings of your legacy, so they might spend it rather than invest. Third, if situations change that would have caused you to re-evaluate your allocations, it’s too late. You don’t want to be dependent on them giving the cash back if you need it for your own needs.

Shortcuts and ideas like these may look appealing on the surface, but they can actually do more harm than good. Consult with an estate planner to find better strategies to prepare for your and your families’ future. Give us a call to see how we can help.