Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Creating A Stress Free Estate Plan

Stress free

While it is easy to assume that estate planning primarily deals with one’s future needs, an estate plan can eliminate one issue that is in the present: stress and worry.  Although everyone is different, there are a number of basic elements that go into creating a stress free estate plan:

  1. Determine who will manage your affairs if you become disabled, incapacitated, or pass away.
  2. Plan your estate if you enter a nursing home or receive significant long-term healthcare.
  3. Protect children from your prior marriage in case you pass away before your present spouse.
  4. Protect assets inherited by your heirs from lawsuits, divorces, and other claims.
  5. Provide for children or grandchildren with special needs.
  6. Address the different needs of your children.
  7. Prevent challenges to your estate plan.
  8. Plan an estate plan for blended families to ensure all children are provided for.

See Mark Eghrari, 11 Fundamental Elements of a Stress-Free Estate Plan, Forbes, Dec. 9, 2014. 

December 10, 2014 in Disability Planning - Health Care, Disability Planning - Property Management, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Estate Planning Concerns For Singles


According to the Census Bureau, almost half of Americans ages 15 and older were single in 2013.  This compares with about one-third in 1970.  As there are more singles than ever before, these individuals end up facing some unique estate planning issues. 

A common concern among singles is distributions.  When a spouse dies intestate the surviving husband or wife generally inherits most assets.  However, if you are single and die intestate, your estate could be distributed in ways you may not like.  “A lot of single people are socially involved and philanthropically active in their communities and have charitable intent, but if they don’t have an estate plan in place all their work dies with them.” 

Thus, in order to prevent your assets being distributed in ways you do not deem adequate, create a will and/or revocable living trust that states specifically how you want your assets to be dispersed after you die.  Also name an executor and/or trustee to carry out those wishes. 

Singles can also encounter problems with beneficiary designations.  If you are divorced, make sure your beneficiaries are up-to-date on IRAs, payable-on-death bank accounts, and life insurance policies.  If you fail to do so, an ex-spouse could end up with your assets. 

See Glenn Ruffenach, What Happens When Single People Die? Market Watch, Dec. 9, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

December 10, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Intestate Succession, Non-Probate Assets, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Joan Rivers' Will Made Public Yesterday

Joan_RiversJoan Rivers' will was filed in Manhattan Surrogate's Court, revealing details of how her estimated $150 million estate will be divided. Rivers named her daughter Melissa Rivers executor of her estate and gave her broad authority. In addition to providing for family members, her publicist, and two assistants, Rivers also directed portions of her estate to go to numerous charities, including God's Love We Deliver, California's Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Jewish Guild for the Blind in Manhattan, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish Home and Hospital Federation of Manhattan, and The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

See Natalie Finn, Joan Rivers' Will: Melissa Rivers Named Executor of Estimated $150 Million Estate, Money Designated for Family and Multiple Charities, E Online, Dec. 9, 2014.

December 10, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Estate Planning for Armed Forces Members

Military family

One of the most common legal assistance service needs for members of the Armed Forces or retirees is estate planning. 

A special law, 10 USC 1044, now enables JAGs to provide worldwide legal assistance, and mandates that states give full effect to the wills, healthcare directives, powers of attorney, and notary services they provide.  Furthermore, JAGs may be intimately familiar with common military estate planning issues, such as owning property in multiple states, having domicile outside one’s state of residence, and having one’s family spread in jurisdictions across the country or the world. 

Armed Service members are not limited to legal assistance services just from their branch.  A JAG from the nearest legal can be of support with almost any estate plan. 

See Ian Holzhauer, Estate Planning Advice for Military Members and Veterans, Tailored Estate Planning, Nov. 10, 2014. 

December 9, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Estate Planning Must Haves for the 20-Somethings

Twenty somethings

Most young adults fail to think about their estate planning needs.  Yet, all adults, no matter their age, should have some type of estate plan in place. 

Young adults are not in need of anything complex; just a foundation that can be built by a few documents.  Below are some key pieces of paperwork that can help jumpstart estate planning for the twenty-somethings:

  • Health Care Advance Directive. This document allow individuals to name another person to make medical decisions on their behalf, in the event a physician determines they cannot make them on their own.  Although many young adults may not see the need for such a document, in the event of an accident or unforeseen event, families may not be able to agree on a treatment or course of action without an advance directive.
  • Durable Powers of Attorney. This allows a named individual to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf.  Similar to health care directives, this is a “what-if” document,” and essential that adults give thought to these powers of attorney.
  • Will. If an individual passes without a will, state law dictates who will receive assets.  For those who are uncomfortable with this situation, it is necessary to draft a will to ensure the proper persons will inherit. 
  • Beneficiary Designations. Work related assets are often a young adult’s most valuable property.  These types of assets are passed by beneficiary designations rather than by will.  Young people are typically unaware of this, or do not get around to filling out the forms.

See Tracy Craig, 5 Financial Documents Every 20-Something Should Have, Financial Planning, Dec. 4, 2014. 

December 7, 2014 in Disability Planning - Health Care, Disability Planning - Property Management, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Year's Review of Celebrity Estate Planning Lessons

Movie Star2014 was another year full of headlines describing the scandal and controversy surrounding the estates of celebrities. Here is a review of 10 celebrity estates that started discussions and taught important estate planning lessons this past year:

  1. Patrick Swayze: Five years after Swayze's death, the recent allegations of forgery of his will reminds us of the importance of timely filing any challenges to wills before the window closes for probate claims.
  2. L’Wren Scott: The scandal and resulting lawsuits over the cancelation of Rolling Stones tour performances by Scott's grief-stricken boyfriend Mick Jagger reminds us that litigation after the loss of a loved one can often become very public, and emotionally and financially draining, and effective estate planning can help prevent such an outcome.
  3. Tom Clancy: The feud over Clancy's estate is an example of how ambiguities in estate planning documents can result in bitter family battles.
  4. Lou Reed: The sole reliance on a will rather than using a trust by Reed resulted in private financial details becoming very public.
  5. Paul Walker: The will used to probate Walker's estate predated his death by 12 years and showed the importance of updating estate planning documents after major life events.
  6. Mickey Rooney: In addition to sparking serious discussions about the problem of elder abuse, the resulting family battle over burial plans for Rooney after he died will very little financially, showed that even an estate does not hold significant financial wealth needs effective estate planning to ensure the decedent's wishes are followed.
  7. Philip Seymour Hoffman: The huge tax consequences that resulted from Hoffman's choice to not create a trust for his children out of fear of spoiling them, sparked discussions of how to create trusts without creating lazy or irresponsible children.
  8. Robin Williams: A positive example was set by Williams through his choice to rely on trusts for his estate planning to keep his financial affairs private, and to create his estate planning documents early before any illness arose that could cause disputes over validity later.
  9. Joan Rivers: Another positive example was set by Rivers' effective use of end-of-life documents as part of her estate plan, which allowed her daughter to know and honor her wishes by terminating life support without the need for court involvement.
  10. Casey Kasem: The bitter family battle that ensued prior to Kasem's death and continues today exemplifies the heightened emotions involved when a family member is nearing and reaches the last stage of life.

See Danielle Mayoras & Andy Mayoras, The 10 Biggest Celebrity Estate Stories of 2014 and What You Can Learn, Forbes, Dec. 4, 2014.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

December 7, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Diane Sawyer Inherits Large Portion of Late Husband's Estate

Sawyer NicholsDiane Sawyer has inherited all of her late husband's tangible personal property, with the exception of one painting that was left to his son Max. Director Mike Nichols left portions of his remaining $20 million estate to Sawyer and his three children. Nichols died November 19 at 83-years-old from a heart attack. Many details of how Nichols distributed his wealth have been kept private due to his use of a trust.

See Shayna Jacobs, Mike Nichols' Will Leaves Fortune to Diane Sawyer, Daily News, Dec. 3, 2014.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

December 5, 2014 in Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advance Care Planning

Healthcare proxy

Many people create their advance directives younger in life, outlining the medical interventions they would want or refuse in situations when they cannot speak for themselves.  Yet, after an unfortunate medical diagnosis or in old age, those directives do not always match the wishes of the people who wrote them.  “Advance care planning is not a moment in time.  It’s a process.” 

The process begins by creating an advance directive, usually including a living will and a medical power of attorney.  A living will outlines what kind of medical care a person would want if he or she cannot communicate.  The medical power of attorney, or health care proxy, designates a person to make medical decisions for the person who can no longer make them. 

Once the directive is made, people should revisit it periodically, especially after any serious medical diagnosis, to ensure the document represents their best thinking.  If you find your current wishes are not provided for, update your directives.  It is also important for individuals to designate a health care proxy who knows them well and will have their best interests at heart.

People’s preferences for medical interventions can change for a variety of reasons.  Moreover, medical situations are often more complicated in real life than they are on paper. 

See Elizabeth O’Brien, Your ‘Living Will’: What Happens If You Change Your Mind? Market Watch, Dec. 4, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

December 4, 2014 in Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Estate Planning for Millennials

Last will and testament

Estate planning plays a significant role in our lives, yet today, many youths have no estate plan whatsoever. 

It is never too early to being drafting out the basic estate plan.  Below is a summary of what young adults should know, even if their highest earning years are still ahead.

  • Know your beneficiary designations. A young professional will likely have access to a retirement plan at work, and may have an individual retirement account.  It is important that they are revisiting who is listed as a beneficiary on each account.
  • Talk about life insurance. Coverage through the workplace may not be enough to sustain a surviving spouse and children.  If you are on the path to marriage and children, think about individual life insurance policies, ideally term coverage.
  • Create a health care proxy and power of attorney. “For singles, it’s even more important to consider who’s going to have your health care power of attorney.  Even a plain old power of attorney is very valuable.  You don’t have to be about to die to have one.”
  • Draft a will. If you do not have a will, your estate is subject to state intestacy laws and the estate could be settled in a manner you never intended. 
  • Discuss estate taxes. Even if you are too young to consider creating a trust, it is a good idea to be informed about the local tax environment. 

See Darla Mercado, Don’t Ignore Estate Planning for Millennial Clients, Investment News, Dec. 3, 2014.

Special thanks to Tom Weede for bringing this article to my attention.

December 4, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Non-Probate Assets, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Finding Joy at the End of Life


Consider how much time you put into planning for a vacation, wedding, and retirement compared to planning for a funeral or death.  Although we will think about issues such as wills and estate planning or cremation and burial, how often do we communicate and document our lives, and what happens to that information when we die?

In reality, we do not do this often.  When faced with the death of a loved one, we are shocked by how little one knows about what is wanted for final arrangements.  We can be unprepared to deal with the details that go beyond one’s last will and testament. 

In the wake of terminal cancer, one woman came to the realization that her life would be cut short.  Though she intended to fight the disease, she planned for her death.  She made a bucket list and set out to check off items on the list she intended to enjoy while she still could.  She also planned her own funeral, where guests shed both tears of sorrow and joy as they remembered their dear friend.

See Barbara Sedoric, How to find Joy At the End of Life, Even While Planning A Funeral, The Huffington Post, Dec. 2, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

December 3, 2014 in Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)