Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Resolutions, Resolutions, Resolutions: Should Getting Your Estate Plan Be One of Them?

It's that time of year, the time we all start to think about our resolutions for next year. What about finally getting your Will and estate planning done?

Some of us always make New Year's resolutions and some of us don't. Some of us stick to our resolutions and some don't. The point of this article is not to debate the merits of resolutions. Instead, I'd like to suggest one that is almost always on everyone's list, but somehow never gets completed.

I hope you make 2011 your year to finally get your Will and estate planning completed. I think that is a pretty important resolution because of how much it means to your family. I have written before about the statistic that most people will spend more time and money each year on an annual vacation then they ever spend on their estate planning. Well, let's make 2011 your year to finally get your Will done. Let's make 2011 your year to finally get your estate planning done.

With all of the tax changes in force for 2011 and 2012, it couldn't be a better time to finally cross this one off your list. Did you know that these estate tax changes are set to expire in 2013 unless extended by Congress?

How do you know which type of Will and estate plan are right for you? That's a very good question and the subject for my first article in the new year. So, like I always, say, Stay Tuned

Have a great, happy and safe New Year!

Bernie Greenberg

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas!

This is my favorite time of year, it's magical. I hope you believe in the magic of the season and are able to enjoy this holiday with your family and loved ones.

Many are not that fortunate and their loved ones may be ill, suffering or protecting us by serving in our armed forces.

In addition to enjoying all of our blessings this season, let's take a moment and remember those who may not be as lucky as we are.

Thanks to all of you for reading our articles on estate planning. Thanks to our servicemen and women for protecting us. Thank you to all those who serve here to keep us safe.

Happy Holidays everybody!

Bernie Greenberg

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Outsourcing Your Estate Plan! Wait, What? Really?!?

A recent problem in estate planning is outsourcing. Here's more information and how to make sure your plan isn't outsourced.

The outsourcing issue affects all of us. Many jobs have been moved overseas: call centers; fulfillment offices and others. You may not even be aware that legal services have been outsourced overseas. I originally started drafting this article before the recent fracas erupted about the tax bill. Now, with the tax bill passed by the Senate and hopefully soon to be passed by the House, I am happy to get back to informing you about this outsourcing problem.

This article is not about outsourcing, this is about estate planning; how to get your plan done properly and make sure you don't end up with an outsourced plan. Whatever your thoughts are on the topic of outsourcing, they are valid and not what this issue is about.

How did I find out about outsourced estate plans? Quite interesting actually. Our firm was solicited to purchase legal services from several suppliers in India. We continue to receive offers weekly for outsourced legal services. We can hire paralegals for $5 to $7 per hour and lawyers for $10 to $20 per hour. Yes, your eyes don't deceive you, and those are not typos! Those are immense savings for any law firm to consider and many have pursued those incredible deals.

Lawyers, either inexperienced in estate planning, or just seeking to make more money in their practices are using these outsourced legal services to produce work for their clients. This is legal, but the professionalism may be questionable. I strongly urge you not to pay for or use legal documents for your estate plan that are outsourced.

Estate planning is a specialized field. While it may not be rocket science, it can be close. With the interplay between sometimes complicated family dynamics and the ever-increasing complexity of our tax laws, estate planning should not be undertaken without appropriate training and experience and certainly not outsourced.

I have surveyed several of my colleagues who are estate planning experts, and none of them would ever consider outsourcing your estate planning. The ability to work one on one with our clients, understand their concerns and goals and to then translate that into their documents is something that real experts pride themselves on. For the same reasons that you should avoid internet and fill-in-the-blank documents, so should you avoid outsourced documents. They are hazardous to your family and to your property!

So how do you protect yourself and your family? Follow these simple steps:

1. Work With Experts. For your estate planning, make sure you deal with an attorney who specializes in estate planning and ONLY estate planning. You wouldn't go to your foot doctor if you have a problem with your heart. Use that same principle in dealing with your estate planner.

2. Work with qualified experts. I recommend you insist on these qualifications at a minimum:

A. The attorney has an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, the attorney rating service. This rating cannot be purchased and is awarded only upon peer review.

B. The attorney specialize in full time estate planning practice.

C. The attorney has a minimum of at least 7 years of full time estate planning specialization or concentration.

D. The attorney be a member of their state's Trust and Estate Bar Section or be a member of ACTEC.

E. The attorney verify they do not use outsourced services or documents in preparing and producing your estate plan.

By following these simple steps you will protect yourself and your family and make sure that your estate plan was not outsourced.

Note: no outsourced services were used or consulted in the preparation or writing of this article.

Bernie Greenberg

Federal law requires us to advise you that no portion of this article is intended nor can be used in any manner as tax advice. You are advised to seek the advice of your own attorney for your estate planning. Also, no portion of this article may be used in any manner in any attempt to evade federal taxes or tax penalties.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Can It Be True? Real Estate Tax Reform? Maybe So!

Are we on the cusp of the dawning of a new age in estate planning? Perhaps.

On December 15, 2010, the U.S. Senate passed by more than 80 votes a tax compromise reached between President Obama and Congressional Republicans. Among other tax issues, the bill continues for two more years the income tax structure that was due to expire on December 31st.

Also, the bill ushers, potentially, a new age in estate planning. The bill would make the exemption against the federal death tax $5 million (up to $10 million for married couples) and make the death tax rate 35%. This would be in lieu of an absurdly low exemption of only $1 million and a 55% rate under present law.

However, the bill has not passed the House of Representatives and several members of that House have threatened to torpedo the bill. That threat is mostly empty since it is being made by Representatives who were voted out of office in the last election.

So stay tuned, it is now up to the House to see if we will get real estate tax reform.

Bernie Greenberg

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9, 2010: Sad News Out of Washington

Congressional Democrats Rebel Against Their Own President; Vote to Reject Obama's Tax Plan

Today is sad news from Washington. The President's Tax Plan, a compromise reached with Republican leadership, was rejected today by Congressional Democrats who rebelled against their own President.

You can read more here from CNN:

As of today, this means there is no compromise on income taxes or estate taxes. The President's economic advisers announced that Congressional Democrats had just voted to continue and deepen the recession.

What does this mean for your estate planning? It means that nuclear winter on your estate arrives January 1st, 2011. Sad news for the entire country.

Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Historic Agreement On Estate Taxes? Maybe.

Late Monday, December 6, 2010 the White House and Republican Leadership reached an agreement on tax policy for 2010-2012. What does it mean?

It could mean nothing and it could be historic. Nothing has passed Congress yet, and the Democratic leadership reacted negatively to the proposal.

On estate taxes it would mean a new $5 million exemption against the federal estate tax with a rate of 35%. That would be truly historic if it happens.

Up in the air at the time of this writing is exactly what the rules would be for people dying in 2010.

All I can say right now is stay tuned!

Sad news as the President's own party has rebelled against him and voted to reject the President's tax plan:


Bernie Greenberg

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Gift

The Gift of Estate Planning: One of The Best Gifts of All

It's the holiday season, the season of thanks and gift giving. Here's an idea for a gift that you may not have considered. The gift of estate planning. This could be the most important gift you ever give to your loved ones.

In 32 years of practicing estate planning law, I have never had a surviving family member tell me that they were sad that Dad, or Mom, had done their estate plan. On the contrary, the reaction has always been gratitude that we assisted their loved one with their plan.

What better gift can you ever give to your family then the gift of security, protection and peace of mind? Yet, most people will spend more time and money each year on the annual vacation then on protecting themselves, their family and property with an estate plan.

Please consider these benefits to your family when thinking of gifts this holiday season.

I will add to this with more thoughts on why the gift of estate could be the best idea for you this holiday season. Stay tuned.