Wills and Trusts

Everyone knows what a will is, but not everyone has one. A will is something that may make us uncomfortable to contemplate, but it shouldn’t.
If you have a will, and maybe with it, a trust, your property will go to whomever you choose, or to causes you believe in. A will lets you express your desires about a guardian for your children. A will lets you minimize that taxes payable on your estate, should you have that much money and property.
Without a will your property will go to your heirs. That may sound ok, but it doesn’t let you give your property where it might be needed the most.
Without a will someone else will decide about who the guardian of your children should be.
Without a will taxes on your estate will be greater than if you planned for maximum savings.
Without a will there will most likely be probate of your estate, leading to more expenses. With a will and a trust there could be very little property subject to probate, and a simplified, less expensive, procedure could be available.
It’s not expensive to have a proper estate plan prepared by an attorney. A simple will could be as little as $500, and adding a trust could be about $600 or $700 more. Wills and trusts prepared for a couple, with reciprocal provisions, might add $200 or $300 more. All told, your estate planning could be under $2,000.
It is important to have professional help with your estate plan!

In a Dispute?

Are you in a dispute about something? That’s not unusual.

The historical method to solve some disputes was a duel! We don’t normally do that anymore, at least on a personal level. It may be different on a geo-political level at times.

Traditionally, solving commercial disputes, disputes over property rights, and other matters, involved filing a lawsuit. That meant engaging lawyers, going to court, letting a judge or jury end the dispute, and usually it ended the dispute and satisfied only one party or the other. About twenty million civil cases are filed annually in this country.

In the last half of the 20th Century, small claims courts came into being across much of the country. These courts allowed individuals to represent themselves, saving money on attorney fees, and usually came to trial much more quickly than in regular courts. They are still very useful for many matters. The process is supposed to be simple and accessible. Some people will consult with an attorney before filing, to see if there really is a case worth pursuing and to learn how to present the case.

There are ways to solve disputes other than filing cases in courts. The more familiar is arbitration. Here, the process is much like a court case, with filings, discovery, witnesses, and so on, and the arbitrator makes a decision that is binding on both parties. The advantages are lower cost to the parties and a quicker outcome. Still, the parties usually engage attorneys to represent them.

Recently arbitration has been In the news because it has been forced upon a party to a dispute due to a provision in a contract or in the fine print hardly anyone reads when they click on “I agree” on a web page. I hardly ever read that fine print. If you agree to arbitration, you have most likely given up your right to settle your dispute in court.

Another way to solve a dispute is mediation. In this process, which is voluntary and must be agreed to by the parties, a mediator meets with the parties and, through discussion with them, tries to find a mutually agreeable solution. The mediator does not make a decision that is binding on the parties or enforceable in court, but if the process is successful, will usually draft an agreement that both parties sign. The advantages are lower cost to the parties, a quicker outcome, and a conclusion that is agreeable to both sides. Many times lawyers are still involved in the process.

Of course, a dispute can often be resolved through negotiation between the parties, which may be carried out through the use of attorneys.

Whatever the dispute may be, a good first step is to consult with an attorney. He or she can let you know what the law is about your dispute, what the outcome might be, whether you have obligated yourself to arbitration, or to using only the courts of a particular state, and what it might cost you to engage in the processes available to you.

It’s no secret…

It’s no secret that lawyers use templates to create documents for clients. It’s also no secret that there are plenty of templates, available through plenty of websites, that those clients can use to create their own documents.

Wills, Living Wills, Trusts, and Advance Directives are just a few of the readily available online documents. Answer some questions, fill in some blanks, view a draft, and pay a few dollars, and you can print out your own documents. And, they might be ok.

What is the difference between those docs and the ones lawyers use?

Your lawyer has the knowledge and experience to see the bigger picture, know what the objectives and pitfalls are, and revise and rewrite the documents to make sure they are right for you. Lawyers use templates, whether their own or ones they get from trusted sources, to save time and to be thorough. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel when experience tells the lawyer that the right template is a good starting point, and to use it judiciously. Using a template can also save the client money.

Why not use your lawyer’s expertise to make sure the job is done right!

Are you prepared?

Recently I worked on a Medicaid application for a man who is in a nursing home, and is not able to assist in completing it. His wife is faced with enormous nursing home bills for him that threaten her future financial well-being.

The burden of gathering the necessary financial information to complete the application has fallen to her, with assistance from me and others. Her husband has always taken care of finances, and has been very secretive. He has never shared passwords with her, or their children, and thus his online accounts are difficult to access.

Why am I telling you this? Medicaid requires 5 years of complete records for all bank accounts, investment accounts and pension accounts. Without the easy access that his computer would have provided, and armed with a power of attorney that he was reluctant to sign, but finally did, we were able to get those records the hard way.

Make it a part of your routine to print out and store in binders or files the monthly statements that financial institutions provide. Store, and keep up to date, passwords and log in information for those accounts, and make it available to those you trust.

When, and if, the need arises for a Medicaid application, or in the event of your incapacity or death, you will have made it easier for your loved ones to carry on without you.