probate

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…

Our Most Popular Estate Planning Blog Posts of 2018

Our Most Popular Estate Planning Blog Posts of 2018

The end of the year is always a great time to reflect on life and to commit yourself to improvement in the year to come. (And to create some awesome estate planning New Year’s resolutions!)

We recently wrote about the importance of using this time to review your estate plan. But estate planning is a big and often complicated topic. To help you think about estate planning and the issues you may face in the future, here are our posts from 2018 that readers found the most useful:

1. What is the Difference Between a Will and a Trust?

Wills and Trusts are two of the most common (and most well-known) estate planning documents. But what are the differences between them? What are their relative advantages and disadvantages? In our most popular post of the year, we explain the differences (and similarities) between a last will and testament and a living trust.

2. 4 Tips to Identify Undue Influence

In Oklahoma, undue influence consists of taking an unfair advantage of another's weakness of mind or body or the use of authority to procure an unfair advantage over someone. This post explains how undue influence can occur in estate planning and how you can identify and avoid it.

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.

How You Can Talk About Estate Planning Over Thanksgiving

How You Can Talk About Estate Planning Over Thanksgiving

There’s nothing quite like family gatherings to remind us that life is very, very, VERY short.

Sometimes, these gatherings can help you remember how much you love your family or convince you to leave them a little something in your estate plan.

Other times, they remind you that there are some family members that annoy you to your core, like, for instance, little Kevin who made a huge mess at the dinner table last Christmas and had to sleep on the hide-a-bed in the attic. You decide to write Kevin out of your will ASAP.

Like I said, there’s nothing quite like family gatherings…

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, holidays might be the only time each year that you and your family all come together. And I suggest you use that time to talk about what happens when you die. Talk about your estate plan.

But how does that talk come up organically? How can you casually segue from Uncle Bob’s bad joke to the contents of your living trust or your advance directive? It’s not an easy task.

Here are a few simple ways you can work estate planning into your Thanksgiving festivities.

What is a Trust?

What is a Trust?

Life is super confusing.

We literally get dumped into this big world full of complicated things like taxes and etiquette and lawn care, and we’re just supposed to know exactly what to do?

My adulthood has been a constant stream of realizing that I misunderstood basic concepts about life that everyone else apparently already knew. Actually that was my childhood, too. So it’s been my whole life. For example:

When I was younger, there was a good stretch of time when I thought “Watergate” was just another word for a dam. Like, a literal gate for water. A water gate.

But whenever I heard people use “Watergate” in conversation, I got this impression that it was not a good thing. As a result, for a few while I assumed that dams were somehow really bad things but had no idea why.

I eventually figured out what Watergate really was; however, that was by no means the last time I misunderstood something. Learning is great and also sometimes embarrassing.

Many people have similar misunderstandings about estate planning. For instance, clients often think their modest assets do not warrant a living trust. After all, aren’t “trust fund babies” supposed to be wealthy? Isn’t a will good enough for me?

Approximately 1 of every 2 clients I talk to doesn’t know exactly what a trust does or how it is different than a will. That is a mostly made up statistic based on the last few client meetings I could remember off the top of my head. I’m not saying it’s not true. I just don’t have the hard data…

But here is a very real statistic: only 42% of U.S. adults currently have a will or a trust. That’s crazy! Part of that is due to the fact that wills and trusts are complex, hard-to-understand documents. And attorneys usually don’t make it much easier.

That’s why I thought I would take the time to explain just what the heck a trust really is.

What is "funding" my trust and how do I do it?

What is "funding" my trust and how do I do it?

So you’ve created a living trust. Awesome. You are super responsible. Spectacular. Your estate is so planned. Excellent.

Reveling in your excellence, you may be thinking to yourself, “You did a great job, Self. You are so responsible, and your estate plan (which is very much planned) is good to go!”

But guess what? Yourself would be wrong.

Is my trust useless?

When you sign a trust document, you just have some sheets of paper. It may be fancy paper — and it’s definitely expensive paper — but it’s still just paper. And paper alone (usually) does not avoid probate. In other words: By itself, a signed trust can be pretty useless.

Think of a trust like a box. When you sign the trust, you have an empty box. To avoid probate, you want to fill that box with all your “stuff,” your assets. Anything that’s in the box at your death doesn’t have to go through probate. Anything that’s not in the box at your death does.

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.

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.

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.