The Ultimate Guide to Lawsuit-Proofing Your Estate Plan

The Ultimate Guide to Lawsuit-Proofing Your Estate Plan

Here's a scary question:

Does your estate plan actually protect your estate?

You spent all that time and money to make sure that your estate will be protected from taxes, from probate, and from creditors — but you may have forgotten one major thing:

You forgot to protect your estate from your heirs.

The sad truth is that children and other heirs often fight over the estate of a deceased loved one, even if the decedent left a valid estate plan. And fighting often means lawsuits.

Heirs can contest an estate plan for a number of reasons: jealousy, greed, sibling rivalries or disagreements. Regardless of why a lawsuit is filed, it means trouble for everyone involved.

What's the Difference Between a Will and a Living Will?

What's the Difference Between a Will and a Living Will?

Estate planning can get confusing. We attorneys use crazy words like testator, corpus, inter vivos, and per stirpes. That's right: some of our terms are so weird, we have to italicize them.

Things get even more confusing when one estate planning term sounds just like another. So it's not surprising whenever our clients ask whether a Last Will and Testament and a Living Will are the same thing (or are at least similar).

The short answer: They are not the same thing. Not even close.

Before we dive in to the distinctions, here is a summary of what we will cover in this post:

You can click the links above to skip to that particular section, or just scroll down the page a bit. It's not a long article.

Anthony Bourdain and Estate Plans for Separated Spouses

Anthony Bourdain and Estate Plans for Separated Spouses

In the wake of celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain's tragic death last week, many articles have been written about his complicated family situation, specifically that Bourdain and wife were permanently separated (but not divorced) at the time of his death.

Like death, divorce and separation are topics nobody likes to talk about. However, they have very different effects on an estate plan. In Anthony Bourdain's case, that leaves a host of estate planning issues unresolved — and millions of dollars up for grabs.

This blog post will discuss the impact of divorce and separation on estate planning, focusing on the following topics:

What is the difference between divorce and legal separation?

Why choose legal separation over divorce?

Can a spouse still inherit after a legal separation?

How can I protect my estate from a separation?

What is the difference between a Will and a Trust?

What is the difference between a Will and a Trust?

Estate planning is a very broad (and sometimes confusing) topic. But when you push past all the legalese and statutes, there are two main sides to estate planning: What happens to your STUFF when you die and who takes care of your SELF when you become incapacitated. This blog post will focus on the first part of that equation.

When it comes to deciding what happens to your STUFF, most people are familiar with the two main estate planning options:

Option 1: a Last Will and Testament.

Option 2: a Living Trust.

There are, of course, other estate planning options that can control what happens to your assets after your death, but we will save those topics for another day.

Wills vs. Trusts

If you died today, what would you want to happen to your STUFF? Maybe you want your family to get everything. Or maybe you don't want a particular family member to get anything. Whatever your preferences, most people care about what happens to their STUFF after their death.

Top 12 Estate Planning Myths

Top 12 Estate Planning Myths

According to a 2015 Harris poll, 64% of Americans don’t have a Will. Why? Maybe it's just procrastination, or maybe it's the fact that there are a lot of myths about estate planning. Very likely, it's a combination of both.

Yet estate planning is not nearly as scary as some people believe it to be. So to help put your mind at ease, here are the 12 most common estate planning myths, debunked.

Myth #1: If I have a Will, I can avoid probate. 

Having a Will does NOT avoid probate. If you die with a Will, that document must be filed in court along with a probate petition, verified and validated by the court, creditors paid, assets inventoried, and all the other wonderful parts of probate completed before your heirs get anything. While there are ways to avoid probate, merely having a Will is not one of them.

Myth #2: Estate planning is only for the wealthy.

Remember our definition of estate planning: An estate plan says what happens to your STUFF when you die and who takes care of your SELF when you become incapacitated. So even if you do not have many assets, an estate plan can be beneficial to provide for your (or a loved one's) medical care or for the care of your children in the event something happens to you.

5 Estate Planning Tips for Unmarried Couples

5 Estate Planning Tips for Unmarried Couples

Like it or not, marriage is a business proposition.

"But isn't it also about love?" Yes, yes. Love and feelings and all that stuff. But marriage can also have a huge financial impact on a family.

Marriage (or, rather, not being married) can have an equally huge impact on an estate plan.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the number of adults in cohabiting (unmarried) relationships relationships is up 29% since 2007. That's about 18 million adults, roughly half of which are younger than 35.

With this rising trend of cohabitation among Millennials, it is important — perhaps more now than ever — to understand the estate planning implications for unmarried couples.

Do unmarried couples need an estate plan?

Remember that there are two sides of estate planning: What happens to your STUFF when you die and who takes care of your SELF when you become incapacitated. 

Those goals do not change when you get married, so an estate plan for an unmarried couple usually looks about the same as an estate plan for a married couple. It is just much more important that an unmarried couple has an estate plan in the first place.

Married With Children: Estate Planning for Young Families

Married With Children: Estate Planning for Young Families

When you have a kid, everything else usually takes a back seat. There's often no time for fun things like hobbies or other activities and definitely no time for un-fun things estate planning.

But what would happen to your child if you and your spouse suddenly died or became incapacitated? Who will take care of your child's medical needs and daily care? Who will manage your assets until your child reaches adulthood?

A well-crafted estate plan can address these issues and more, and ensure that your kids are taken care of after you are gone.

No Kids? Why You Still Need an Estate Plan

No Kids? Why You Still Need an Estate Plan

Many young couples think that, if they don't have kids, they don't need an estate plan. After all, if you die, everything is going to your spouse anyway, right? Not always.

What happens if we don't have an estate plan?

If you are married with no kids, and you do not have an estate plan or prenuptial agreement providing otherwise, the law in Oklahoma says that everything you have goes to your spouse. However, as we have discussed before, your spouse must still go through probate before he or she can actually get your assets. This is the case even if you have a Last Will and Testament providing that your spouse gets everything.

Single and Ready to Mingle With Estate Planning

Single and Ready to Mingle With Estate Planning

I'm single with no kids. Do I need an estate plan?

This scenario describes a lot of Millennials, and the short answer to the question is yes. Having an estate plan is a good idea no matter your family situation. Remember that there are two sides of estate planning: What happens to your STUFF when you die and who takes care of your SELF when you become incapacitated. Both aspects of estate planning matter, whether you are married with a large family or single with no kids.

Estate Planning for Millennials

Estate Planning for Millennials

With hitting the work force and starting families (not to mention destroying entire industries), Millennials have a lot on their minds. Estate planning may not even be on your radar. Besides, isn't estate planning just for older, richer folks? Do you even need an estate plan when you're young and poor?

Do Millennials Need an Estate Plan?

The short answer: estate planning is for everyone, including Millennials. But what should a Millennial's estate plan look like? What documents should you have? What things do you need to consider before deciding on an estate plan?