Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Gift For Thanksgiving? How About the Gift of Being Current?

The Gift of Being Current

As an estate planning attorney, as you might guess, I think a lot about estate planning. Recently, two experiences with clients reminded me of how important your estate plan is to protecting you and your family. The experiences of those two families is about the importance of having a current plan rather than one that is old and out of date.

Current Powers of Attorney

The first case involved a client who suffered an illness that left them incapacitated. The issue we faced is that the client's documents did not have current HIPAA language. This means that having the right family members with access to the client's doctors took some work. First lesson: make sure you have current Powers of Attorney that contain the appropriate HIPAA provisions so that the family members you want can speak to your medical providers should you suffer an incapacity.

A Current Will

The second case was more problematic. This client had not updated their Will concerning who would be the Personal Representative (that's the Executor in Colorado). When the client died two months ago, the family was not pleased that someone no longer involved with this client was named as the PR. We were able to solve this sticky problem with a series of meetings and negotiations. Lesson two: keep your Will or estate plan up to date.

What started me thinking about this is the holiday season. The holidays are when most people think the most about family (except some the stores that are forcing employees to work on Thanksgiving; a subject for a different article)and is always my busiest time of the year. So when you are thinking about your family this Thanksgiving, you might also think about whether your documents, Powers of Attorney, Will or estate plan are up to date and current. If not, how about that for a way to remember your family? Protect them and yourself with current documents.

And of course, if you don't have these documents yet, the holidays are probably the best time to get started.

What do you think? Please join our conversation with your comments, thoughts or questions. As always, thank you for your interest.

Bernie Greenberg

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Top 3 Reasons To Not Do Your Will Online

There are many reasons to not do your Will or estate plan online. Here are the top three.

Many people want to have a Will or start their estate planning. However, one of the worst ways to do so is to try and do your Will online. This is definitely an area where the illusion of ease and simplicity can come back and hurt you and your family.

Here are the top three reasons to not do your Will online:

1. Online Wills Don't Work.

There's not much reason to do something online if it's not going to work for you. Generally, online Wills don't work and they don't work because of the reasons that the document is online in the first place. Read on.

2. Online Wills Are Overly Generic.

In order to make a document apply to millions of people simultaneously, the document must be built and structured extremely generically. In other words, having apply specifically to you takes work, the kind of attention that you get only with a qualified estate planning attorney and not online. These documents are full of traps for the unwary and if you don't have advice, how can you be sure of avoiding those traps?

3. Online Wills Fail to Comply with State Law.

Due to their generic nature, lack of planning and expert advice, most times online Wills fail to comply with even the most basic requirements of state law. If the Will fails to comply with state law, the Will itself fails. Moreover, the primary supplier of online documents, legalzoom has been sued in several states for a variety of state law violations. I have always failed to understand why people would think of dealing with a company like that which doesn't serve the interests of it's customers.

There are many more reasons to not do your Will online, but these top three should be considered by everyone. Given that you can do your Will with expert advice for about the same investment, consider that approach first.

Let me know if you have questions or comments and please join our conversation. Thank you as always for your interest.

Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Starting Your Estate Plan is Easier Than You Think

The phrase estate planning can be intimidating to some, but getting started is easier than you may think.

Are you put off when you hear about estate planning? It's in the news, on TV and all over the internet. Many people gt intimidated when they hear those words, but there's no reason to fear or avoid getting started with your estate plan. Let's discuss just how easy it can be to get started.

First, the words, estate planning. Those words mean something different to everyone, but all they really mean is creating certain arrangements for your assets, property, insurance, IRA, etc. and for some creating a Will, Powers of Attorney and a Living Will. For others it can also involve creating trusts and focusing on estate tax planning. In fact, you may have already done some and you don't remember.

For example, if you have some insurance, you probably named a beneficiary. Perhaps the same with an IRA. Those beneficiary designations represent a form of estate planning. Perhaps you got a Will from military service, or some other source. Again, you have done some estate planning.

So, what about getting started and why would I suggest it's easy? Well, if you want to have a simple plan, then just make sure your beneficiary designations say what you want, especially if you haven't looked at them in a while.

Second, in a State like Colorado, you can use POD (Pay on Death) or TOD (Transfer on Death) beneficiary designations to direct bank accounts or brokerage accounts to the beneficiaries you want. This represents a probate-free transfer of the bank or brokerage account to your intended beneficiary and you don't need a Will to accomplish this.

Moving to the next step could involve protecting yourself with Durable Powers of Attorney and considering a Will. If your net worth is significant, you might also look at estate tax issues.

So, when you approach it from this direction, estate planning can be simple and not intimidating.

What do you think? Please join our conversation and leave a comment or feel free to ask any questions that you may have. You can also call our office or send me an email, I answer them all.

Thanks for your interest.

Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How To Review Your Estate Plan at Home

Before you visit with your attorney, do you know what to look for in your documents? Here are some suggestions:

We provide all our clients with a client notebook containing all their estate planning documents. So you have this notebook, but how should you use it?

Here are some useful tips to make the notebook work for you:

1. Take the notebook out and read through it twice each year.

2. Pay attention to the provisions about your decision makers, how you are providing for your kids and/or grandkids and who you have in control if you become incapacitated or when you die.

3. While you read these sections, ask yourself if what you are reading matches what you now want to have happen. If you see an issue, it's time to call our office and schedule a review.

Here is an example: We had a client who recently had one of his agents resign from the Power of Attorney. When the client saw who he had named as an alternate, he knew it was time for an update. That's what you want to look for. Each time you look at your documents at home, look for these kinds of issues so you can make sure that your documents do what you want them to do.

Let me know if you have any questions concerning these issues. Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg