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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Shocking New Report on VA Benefits Makes National News, But Part of the Story is Missing


The New York Times has finally caught on to something we have known here in the Carolinas for quite some time - veterans are being denied benefits by the VA at an all-time high rate. This is a serious issue that is impacting a lot of young men and women from both North and South Carolina who bravely answered the call of duty after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

A Common Story

The Times article tells the story of Joshua Bunn, who was a rifleman in Afghanistan, but like so many recent vets, is being denied benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Bunn, who the Times reports was suffering from suicidal thoughts and nightmares, went AWOL and after he was caught, agreed to take an other-than-honorable discharge from the Marine Corps because he was told he would be better off taking an other-than-honorable discharge than waiting years for a medical discharge to go through.

Unfortunately, because his discharge was not honorable, the VA does not consider him a veteran, and is denying him benefits.


Read more . . .


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Avoiding a Family Feud After Your Death


What steps can you take to decrease the risk that your loved ones will fight over your estate?

It happens all too often. A person dies and their children go to war over the estate. One claims she was promised the silver and another stakes a claim for an antique piece of furniture and things spiral out of control.


Read more . . .


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Keep Your Beneficiary Designations Up to Date


When should I update my beneficiary designations?

A well-designed estate plan is one that considers the changes that occur during an individual's lifetime, such as getting married, having children, or getting divorced. In addition to keeping your estate planning documents, such as a trust, a will, and powers of attorney, up-to-date, it is also essential that the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts are current.

Reasons to Update Beneficiary Designations

Because retirement accounts and life insurance policies are generally not included in an estate, it is important to update these documents so they match your overall estate plan, ensuring that your last wishes are fulfilled. Of course, if you do not specify these designations, federal or state law will make their own determinations.

By failing to update these designations in the event of divorce or remarriage, there is the potential that your heirs will become entangled in a lengthy and expensive litigation, and the court's determination may not agree with your wishes.
Read more . . .


Monday, April 25, 2016

The Use of QTIP Trusts in Estate Planning Involving Second Marriages


How should you protect the division of your assets after a second marriage?

In this era of second (or even multiple) marriages, stepchildren, and blended families, QTIP (qualified terminable interest property trusts) are extremely helpful in estate planning. When you have married for the second time and have children from your first marriage, making sure that all of those you love will be provided for after your death becomes increasingly complicated. A QTIP trust accomplishes the following:

  • Allows you to put limitations on your property so it doesn't all go directly to your new spouse
  • If one spouse dies, it allows the surviving spouse to decide what proportion, if any, of the deceased's estate should be held in trust to maximize tax savings

The latter is particularly helpful since estate tax laws are in a continual state of flux.

How does a QTIP trust work?

It is possible for each spouse to set up a QTIP trust, leaving his or her assets to the other. When the first spouse dies, the other spouse receives a "life estate" in the QTIP trust.


Read more . . .


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hybrid Long-Term Care Policies

How can I plan for long-term care?

Given the fact that people are living longer, the cost of medical coverage during their older years is a matter for individuals to consider as part of their estate planning. Long-term care for nursing home patients can cost as much as $90,000 per year, according to some estimates so long stays can easily deplete a retiree's estate.

What is a hybrid life insurance policy?

Many individuals have traditionally planned for long-term care by purchasing stand alone insurance policies. However, these plans are expensive and it is common for premium costs to rise. In response to these shortcomings, financial and estate planning professionals are informing their clients of a relatively new option -- hybrid policies. Hybrid policies are essentially universal life insurance policies or fixed annuities that are bundled with coverage for long-term care. These policies provide for medical care by retaining a certain amount of cash which can then be used to pay for long-term care benefits.

For example, in a well-designed hybrid life plan, an individual can pay a single premium of $100,000 and be entitled to $400,000 in payments for long-term care after a certain period. These products not only provide life insurance and long-term care funding, but can also be tapped for other reasons (depending on the circumstances) and passed on to heirs. However, most hybrid plans have "surrender periods" that put the money off limits for a certain number of years and impose a penalty if funds are withdrawn during that time.

Who Can Benefit from Hybrid Polices?

According to the insurance industry group Limra, sales of hybrid insurance products have risen dramatically since 2008 to more than $2.4 billion in 2015. Stand alone long-term policies, on the other hand, account for $300 million in annual sales. Moreover, the number of insurers offering hybrid products is limited because of higher costs associated with these policies.

Hybrid insurance is not for everyone, especially individuals who do not have large assets, because insurance companies get a lot of money upfront, which they hold onto and manage. The surrender fees are designed to make it difficult to withdraw funds. Some advisors recommend these policies for clients with half a million to $2 million dollars in assets. This is because individuals above this threshold may be able to self-fund their long-term care, while those who fall below that asset level may be able to "spend down" their assets in order to qualify for Medicaid.

In the final analysis, hybrid plans are complicated and, require the assistance of an attorney with expertise in estate planning and long-term care.


Monday, March 28, 2016

A Primer on Business Succession Planning


What are the essentials of a business succession plan?

In launching a new business, entrepreneurs need to consider what the best business structure will be and how to arrange for funding, as well the how to bring their products to the market. What many startups fail to recognize is the need for business succession planning. If the future prospects of the business are strong, the owner needs to ensure business continuity when he or she is no longer at the helm.
Read more . . .


Monday, January 25, 2016

Why shouldn't I use a form from the internet for my will?

In this computer age, when so many tasks are accomplished via the internet -- including banking, shopping, and important business communications -- it may seem logical to turn to the internet when creating a legal document such as a will . Certainly, there are several websites advertising how easy and inexpensive it is to do this. Nonetheless, most of us know that, while the internet can be a wonderful tool, it also contains a tremendous amount of erroneous, misleading, and even dangerous information.

In most cases, as with so many do-it-yourself projects, creating a will most often ends up being a more efficient, less expensive process if you engage the services of a qualified attorney.  Just as most of us are not equipped to do our own plumbing repairs or automotive repairs, most of us do not have the background or experience to create our own legal documents, even with the help of written directions.

Situations that Require an Attorney for Will Creation

 In certain cases, the need for an estate planning attorney is inarguable. These include situations in which:

  • Your estate is large enough to make estate planning guidance necessary
  • You want to disinherit your legal spouse
  • You have concerns that someone may contest your will
  • You worry that someone will claim your mind wasn't sound at the signing

Mistakes and Omissions 

It has always been possible to write a will all by yourself, even before the advent of the typewriter, let alone the computer.  Such a document, however, is unlikely to deal with the complexities of modern life.  Many estate planning attorneys have seen, and often been asked to repair, wills that have mistakes or significant omissions. These experts have also become aware of situations in which the survivors of the deceased wind up in court, spending thousands of dollars to contest ambiguously worded or incomplete wills. Without legal guidance from a competent estate planning attorney, creating a "boxtop" will can result in tremendous financial and emotional risk.

Evidence that Online Wills Are Not Foolproof

Evidence that many other complications can arise when an individual creates a will using generalized online directions can be found in the following facts: 

  • Each state has its own rules (e.g. requiring differing numbers of disinterested party signatures)
  • Even uncontested wills can remain in probate if not executed in an exacting fashion
  • Estate planning attorneys find legal software programs inadequate
  • Even legal websites themselves recommend bringing in an attorney in all but the very simplest cases
  • Some legal websites provide inexpensive monthly legal consultations with attorneys to protect their client and themselves

 

Areas that Frequently Cause Problems 

Self-constructed wills often become problematic when the testator:

  • Names an executor who has no financial or legal knowledge
  • Leaves a bequest to a pet  (legally, you must leave the bequest to an appointed caretaker)
  • Puts conditions on payouts to an that are difficult, or impossible, to enforce
  • Makes unusual end-of-life decisions or puts living will information into the will
  • Designates guardians for children, but neglects to name successor guardians
  • Neglects to coordinate beneficiary designations where, for example, the will and  insurance policy designations contradict one another
  • Leaves funeral instructions into the will since the document will most likely not be read until after the funeral has taken place
  • Leaves inexact or ambiguous instructions dealing with blended families
  • Neglects to mention small items in the will which, though of small financial value, are meaningful to loved ones and may cause contention

In order to ensure that you leave your assets in the hands of those you wish, and to avoid leaving your loved ones with bitter disputes and expensive probate costs, it  is always wise to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney when making a will.  In this area, as in so many others, it is best, and safest, to make use of those with expertise in the field.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What Your Loved Ones Absolutely Need to Know About Your Estate Plan

The conversation about a person’s last wishes can be an awkward one for both the individual who is the topic of conversation and his or her loved ones. The end of someone’s life is not a topic anyone looks forward to discussing. It is, however, an important conversation that must be had so that the family understands  the testator’s final wishes before he or she passes away. If a significant sum is being left to someone or some entity outside of the family, an explanation of this action may go a long way to avoiding a contested will. In a similar vein, if one heir is receiving a larger share of the estate than the others, it is prudent to have this action explained. If funds are being placed in a trust instead of given directly to the heirs, it makes sense for the testator to advise his or her loved ones in advance.

When a loved one dies, people are often in a state of emotional turmoil. Each deals with grief differently and, often, unpredictably. Anger is a common reaction to loss, one of the five stages postulated to apply to everyone dealing with such a tragedy. Simply by talking to loved ones ahead of time, a testator can preempt any anger misdirected at the estate plan and avoid an unnecessary dispute, be it a small family tiff or a prolonged legal battle.

The executor of the estate must be privy to a significant amount of information before a testator passes on. It is helpful for the executor to know that he or she has been chosen for this role  and to have accepted the appointment in advance. The executor should know the location of the original will. Concerns of fraud mean that only the original copy of a will can be entered into probate. The executor should be aware of all bank accounts, assets, and debts in a testator’s name. This will avoid a tedious search for documents after the decedent passes on and will ensure that all assets are included as part of the estate. The executor of an estate should be aware of all memberships, because it will be the executor’s responsibility to cancel them. An up-to-date accounting of all assets and debts will simplify the settlement of the estate for an executor significantly.


Monday, January 11, 2016

The Rule against Perpetuities

The law allows a person preparing a will to have almost complete control over his or her assets after the testator passes on, but there are limits to such power. A person can restrict a property from being sold, or make sure that it is used for a specific purpose. A property can be bequeathed to a family member as long on condition that the person maintains the family business in a specific city, or exercises daily, or places flowers on the deceased's grave every week, or engages in any other behavior the testator desires. This freedom, however, is not without limits. The time limit on this ability is called the rule against perpetuities. The rule is also referred to as the “dead man’s hand” statute.

The rule against perpetuities is complex and rarely utilized. At the time of the passing of the testator, the heirs of the estate are locked in. These heirs are referred to as “lives in being.” For the purposes of this rule, if a child is conceived but not yet born at the time of the testator’s death, it will be considered a life in being. Once the last living heir named in the will passes away, the restrictions on the property will continue in place as the testator desired for 21 years. The idea is that a testator may control his assets for a full generation after his or her death. The rule is notoriously difficult to apply properly. When it does apply, the conditions on the bequest are abandoned and the gift returns to the residual estate.

What makes this rule so confusing is that, when an individual writes a will, he or she may make gifts to potential children or grandchildren. These children and grandchildren, however, may not be born until years later. If a child has been born at the time the decedent passes away, he or she is subject to the restrictions on the bequest during his or her lifetime. If a grandchild is conceived and born after the decedent’s death, however, the child may avoid the restrictions 21 years after the death of the last heir alive at the time of the decedent’s death. There is no way to predict when this might occur. The rule is archaic and easily avoided. A knowledgeable attorney can help a person planning his or her estate set up an equitable trust. Similar to a will, a trust may impose conditions on the use of assets, but is not subject to the rule against perpetuities. There are other advantages to a trust, but one of the most important is avoiding this unpredictable and confusing rule.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Can an Individual be held responsible for his or her deceased loved one's debts?

When a loved one dies, an already difficult experience can be made much more stressful if that loved one held a significant amount of debt. Fortunately, the law addresses how an individual’s debts can be paid after he or she is deceased.

When a person dies, his or her assets are gathered into an estate. Some assets are not included in this process. Assets owned jointly between the deceased and another person pass directly to the other person automatically. If there are liens on the property at that time, they will stay on the property, but no new liens can be placed on the property for debts in the name of the deceased. Similarly, debt jointly in the name of the deceased and another party may continue to be collected from the other party. In community property states, all assets and debts are the joint property of both spouses and pass automatically from one to the other. The community property states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

From the pool of assets in the estate, an executor is required to pay all just debts. This means that, before a beneficiary may receive anything, all debts must be satisfied. Property might be sold to create liquidity in order to accomplish this. If there are more debts than there are assets, the estate must sell of as many assets as possible to pay off the creditors. If there is no money in the estate, the creditor can not collect anything. Rather than force people into this tiresome process, many creditors will agree to discharge a debt upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate or obituary. This is particularly true of small, unsecured debts. Life insurance proceeds were never owned by the decedent and should pass to a beneficiary without consequence to the estate. Proceeds of a retirement account may also be exempt from debts.

If creditors continue harassing the beneficiaries of debtors, they may be violating federal regulations under the FDCPA. They can be held accountable by their actions, either by the FTC, the state attorney general, or a private consumer law attorney.


Monday, December 14, 2015

What is a tax basis and how will it affect my estate plan?

A tax basis is essentially the purchase price of a piece of property. Whenever that property is sold, the seller must pay taxes on the difference between the sale price and the original purchase price. This concept applies to all property, including stocks, bonds, vehicles, mechanical equipment, and real estate. If debts are assumed along with the purchase price, the principal amount of the debt will be included in the basis. The basis can be adjusted downwards when a person deducts depreciation costs on his or her income tax returns, and may be increased for capital investments towards improving the property that are not deducted for income tax purposes. Selling a property that has been held for a long time can carry a serious tax burden because of inflation, particularly when real estate prices have increased.

When an individual receives property as an inheritance, the tax basis is reset to whatever the fair market value is at the time of the transfer of title. This means that the heir would pay significantly less taxes if that property is sold by the beneficiary than if the original owner were to sell it and devise the money to his beneficiaries. Most simple wills provide that all of a testator’s assets are placed into a residual estate to be divided equally among the heirs. This means that an executor must liquidate the assets of the estate and divide the proceeds among the heirs. However, because there is no transfer of title before the property is sold, the heirs are stuck with the grantor’s basis and they lose an opportunity for a sizeable tax break.

A person planning his or her estate may also reset the basis in his or her property by giving it as a gift directly to his or her heirs or by gifting the property to an inter vivos trust. These actions can have their own tax related consequences, or create other unintended problems for the beneficiaries. Only an experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on the most efficient way to pass your assets on to your heirs.


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Monk Law Firm, PLLC assists clients throughout Charlotte, Rock Hill, Fort Mill and the surrounding areas.



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| Phone: 803-594-4453
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