What and When Should I Tell My Kids?

Parents who have gone through the estate planning process typically ask what information they should share with their children and when. The answer requires balancing many factors, but can be boiled down to a simple concept: Take responsibility and own up to your decisions, and don’t leave it to your kids to fight about it. First, if a child has been left out of a Will or is receiving less money than other siblings you may want to tell them so, and why. Clearly this is not a universal approach, but taking responsibility and informing them up-front allows the child to reconcile this fact. This will also help minimize your other children having to deal with the dispossessed child’s bitterness

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“Name That Witness” (to Your Will)

When you execute your Will you MUST have it witnessed by at least two competent adults who are not beneficiaries in the Will. When you die New York’s Surrogate’s Courts require the names of the witnesses to be listed in the Probate Petition. And so it is nothing short of stupefying to me how many Wills have witness signatures that are completely illegible. This is somewhat understandable if you execute your own Will, since non-attorneys are not in the business of drafting Wills.  The signers of illegible signatures are also more easily identified in the event it was the Testator’s friends or neighbors who signed (and thus the identities of the witnesses are more easily deduced). But many attorneys’ witnesses

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“Don’t Forget About BoBo: Pet Trust for Your Animal Companion”

One of my dearest aging clients have a dog named Bo Bo. Bo Bo is a true companion to this couple: They are in their 90s and have outlived many of their friends, the husband is more mobile than his wife and likes to get physical activity by walking Bo Bo, and the dog is absolutely in love with them. Bo Bo also smells bad, barks at the littlest disturbance, is a manic that constantly jumps on visitors, (and gets slobber and fur on my suit, which needs to be dry cleaned after every single visit) and is begrudgingly tolerated (at best) by anyone other than my clients. Unfortunately,  when my clients pass to the eternal human boneyard, Bo Bo’s

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5 Times You DON’T Pay a Deceased Person’s Credit Card Bill

The weeks immediately following a family member’s death is tense, emotional and stressful; many people rush to handle the departed person’s affairs. This includes paying the deceased person’s debts, since every credit card company comes out of the woodwork the moment the card is cancelled by the survivors. However, many family members pay these bills even though they had no responsibility to do so.   Here are 5 instances when you should NOT pay a deceased person’s debts:   Retirement Plans: Remember that your retirement plans are protected from most creditors, including credit cards. If the decedent died with only retirement plan assets remaining in his name, tell this to the credit card company and don’t pay them anything.  

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The Top 5 Things to Do When a Family Member is Terminally Ill

Watching a person’s last days of life is often a horrible, gut-wrenching process. The dying individual may or may not be able to communicate, and the trauma of seeing a loved one approaching their end makes it difficult for spectators to make decisive decisions. But no matter what the case, if you want to do what is best for your family, you must utilize the precious remaining days of your loved one’s life to take action on certain items, as these matters get much more difficult and stressful upon his or her passing. Figure Out Funeral Arrangements: May people have funeral plots or pre-paid burial arrangements, but these details are often not formally shared with family and friends beforehand. If the

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Medicaid Pitfalls: Cash Value Life Insurance

Qualifying for Medicaid can be a pain in the neck: You can only qualify for benefits if you have a limited amount of assets and income. Yes, there are some exceptions, but in most cases there are financial limits. Unfortunately, people’s past investment decisions may severely impact their current eligibility.   One of the worst former financial decisions for Medicaid planning is the limits placed on cash value life insurance.   “Permanent” life insurance is meant to last until you reach age 95 or 100, then pay out to you or your beneficiary even if you are still alive. These policies allow you to invest extra money to the policy’s “cash value” so that as the annual cost of the insurance

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Naming Beneficiaries: When to Start (and Stop) Asking “What If?”

My mentor was a meticulous, forward-thinking attorney. When she retired from private practice I succeeded her and took over her client files. As a result, I had the pleasure of reading many of the wills she had drafted (not a recommended activity for narcoleptics who don’t want to fall asleep). She was absolutely scrupulous when it came to naming contingent beneficiaries to an estate. For some of her clients, and indeed for me too at times, it seemed like a maddening process.   Here is a common scenario: I imagine going to an attorney to draft my Will, create beneficiary designation forms, and consider creating a trust. Now comes the moment of truth: When I pass away, who gets what?

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Handling the Empty Nest: Securing the Recently Departed Loved One’s House

When a person passes away there are several matters to take care of, the FIRST of which is securing the premises. One of my biggest concerns is the possible “Dash and Grab” that dishonest (needy?) family members perform when they hear of the recently departed family member and run to strip the house of assets with financial or sentimental value. And, as much as I hate to use stale idioms, “Possession IS 9/10ths of the law.” Here are steps you can take to secure a family member’s personal belongings upon their passing: CHANGE THE LOCKS: If the house was owned by the decedent, consider doing this to protect the property inside. CANCEL CREDIT CARDS / FREEZE BANK ACCOUNTS: Supplying a

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SIBLING RIVALRIES: The Funeral: Who is in Charge?

The first sibling rivalry goes back to the “first” siblings, Cain and Able. It was not the last (though the outcome was a little more dramatic than the average sibling rivalry). Of the many rivalries that have taken place since, one that is too often overlooked is over the parent’s disposition of their remains upon their passing. I have seen situations where one sibling [we’ll call him “brother”] was the local child living with his mother, and the more distant child [“sister”] lived a few thousand miles away. Brother and sister had not liked each other for decades. When mom passed away, brother did not tell sister, and decided to hold a small funeral where mom’s funeral service was highly

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Burial Instructions in Your Will? Don’t Bother

Many people have an idea how they want their remains handled upon their passing, and want to ensure this method is respected. And unless you are like Vladimir Lenin and want the public to view your corpse in perpetuity (though I am not entirely sure he actually wanted this), when you pass away you generally want your remains to be dealt with relatively quickly. In the past people included their desires in their Wills, not knowing where else to state them. A Will has to be accepted by the Surrogate’s Court under the Probate process: (1) This requires an original Death Certificate which you usually get from a funeral home (but remember, the undertaker doesn’t know how to handle your

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