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What's on Your Estate Planning “Bucket List”

What's on Your Estate Planning “Bucket List”

Everybody knows what a “bucket list” is, right?

It’s a list (duh) of things you want to do before you die (i.e. “kick the bucket”). I won’t get into the weeds about the concept, so if you want to learn more about bucket lists and also ugly-cry through two boxes of Kleenex, watch the 2007 film The Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.

But back to the blog.

Just as you and Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson have a bucket list for life, you should also have a bucket list for estate planning. Ask yourself: What do I need to do to arrange my affairs before I die?

Estate planning is about more than just legal documents. A good plan means accounting for your assets and providing the information, documents, and knowledge necessary to ensure a smooth transfer of those assets to the people you want to have them.

To help you create your own estate planning bucket list, here are 10 tips you can use to organize your estate before you die:

1. Get a Will or Trust.

Of course the first item on the bucket list is to create an actual estate plan. I’m an estate planning attorney writing on an estate planning blog. What did you expect?

Formal estate planning documents such as a Last Will and Testament or a Living Trust are crucial to make the administration of your estate as easy as possible. Without them, your estate could be tied up in messy probate — in some cases for years.

Medicare vs. Medicaid

Medicare vs. Medicaid

I am a lawyer, not a healthcare professional.

I mean, I did alright in chemistry, but I also don’t know my own blood type. So I am usually not the best person to ask about health-related issues. Nevertheless, I get the same question about once a week:

“What’s the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?”

Healthcare is confusing even under ordinary circumstances. But navigating federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid can feel overwhelming. Surprisingly, though, estate planning and other legal techniques can help with the process. (I will discuss some of those techniques in a forthcoming article.)

For now, however, let’s answer the question posed above and begin with a brief rundown of the differences between these two programs.

What is Medicare?

Medicare is a health insurance program administered by the federal government through the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). It primarily serves people over 65, regardless of income, but it is also available to younger individuals with certain disabilities or illnesses.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Beneficiaries

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Beneficiaries

“Probate” is a dirty word to most people.

Sure, sometimes it can be helpful. But you generally want to avoid it.

Think of it like the raw broccoli that for some reason is included on every party platter everywhere, but without the dip. No dip, just raw broccoli. Avoid. It.

One of the ways to avoid probate is by naming beneficiaries on your financial accounts and contractual policies.

In estate planning, a beneficiary is a person or entity who receives part of your estate after your death. You can name a beneficiary through your estate planning documents OR through a contract such as a life insurance policy, IRA, or agreement with your bank.

If you designate a beneficiary on an account or policy, then the assets or proceeds of that account or policy will pass directly to the named beneficiary, probate-free, after your death.

Sounds cool, right?

Right. It is very cool.

However, sometimes beneficiary designations can have unintended (and undesirable) consequences. Here are some mistakes to avoid when naming beneficiaries:

1. Not naming a beneficiary

This one seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because it is so easy to avoid.

If you do not name a beneficiary (or take other steps to avoid probate), you are virtually ensuring that your estate will be probated. And although probate is not the worst thing in the world, it is costly and time consuming. It is also usually avoidable.

Even if you believe all your accounts and policies have named beneficiaries, double check. Triple check. Check once a year. Do everything you can to make sure you don’t make the silly mistake of forgetting to name a beneficiary.

However, designating beneficiaries is not always as easy as it sounds…

Get Our FREE 2018 Estate Planning Checklist

Get Our FREE 2018 Estate Planning Checklist

Prepare yourself to be shocked: 2018 is almost over.

If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to a few weeks of Christmas carols, football, family, bowl games, presents, and (best of all) football.

This is also a great time to look back on the year that was:

Perhaps you started a new job or got a raise; maybe you made an addition (by birth or marriage) or subtraction (by death or divorce) to the family; or maybe you purchased a house, received a windfall inheritance, or started a new business.

Life can change a lot in a year.

But do those life changes mean you need to make changes to your estate plan?

To help you answer that question, we have put together a 10-question checklist to review your estate plan.

Do I Need Probate to Get My Inheritance?

Do I Need Probate to Get My Inheritance?

Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn't ask us whether they need to probate a deceased loved one's estate. So when is probate necessary?

When you hold title to (i.e., own) an asset, you can generally only lose title in two ways: by inter vivos (literally, "between the living) gift or by court order. By definition, you can only make an inter vivos gift while you are alive. Therefore, once you die, the only way to transfer title is by court order. That (among other things) is the basic role of the probate process.

5 Ways to Avoid Probate

5 Ways to Avoid Probate

Probate is a dirty word to most people. It's time-consuming, expensive, public, and brings with it the possibility of infighting and costly litigation. So how can you avoid it? The short answer: estate planning. But as we have written before, estate planning is a very broad topic. So here are five ways you can use estate planning to avoid probate:

1. Give away your entire estate.

This might seem like the most logical solution and, sadly, many people do it without thinking of the consequences. If you give away your assets, you also give away control over them. If, for example, you give your home to your child, you cannot control who lives there or if it is sold or mortgaged or seized by your child's creditors — even if you're living there. Giving away your estate may also trigger a federal gift tax. What's more, if you give your child your home as a gift during your lifetime, they cannot take advantage of a concept known as stepped-up basis and could instead be forced to pay large capital gains taxes in the future.

What is Estate Planning?

What is Estate Planning?

Most people have been told that they need an estate plan, but what exactly IS estate planning? What does it mean to have an estate plan, and why is it important to have one? Although estate planning is a very broad subject, it can be boiled down to this: An estate plan helps ensure that the proper people can take care of your SELF in the event of your incapacity and that the proper people get your STUFF in the event of your death. An estate plan includes several key aspects:

1. Formal documents

You have most likely heard of two very common estate-planning documents: a Last Will and Testament and a Living Trust. These documents say what happens to your STUFF after you die. Importantly, a Will is still subject to probate after your death; however, a properly funded Trust can avoid probate.