Category Archives: Prevention

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US musician Prince performs during his concert at the Sziget Festival on the Shipyard Island, northern Budapest, Hungary, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011.

Why Prince should have had a Will

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I’m disappointed with Prince. Here’s why. He was in a position of influence because of his popularity, but he left as a legacy a court battle over his estate. And worse than that, he left a trail of emotional trauma and possibly financial damage to his family. First, let me update you on where things stand regarding Prince’s estate. Then I’ll tell you why Prince should have had a Will.

Quick update: According to an article in Reuters, 29 people have had their claims denied in the Prince probate proceeding in Minnesota. These folks (I won’t call them vultures) included a professed secret wife who said the CIA had classified their marriage records as top secret. Among other would-be heirs denied by the court were five people who came forward claiming Prince was their biological or adoptive father. Several others claimed their dad was also Prince’s genetic parent by way of an extramarital affair with his mother. There is no final word on who the heirs will be, since some have to submit to genetic testing.

For all the taboos that Prince pushed against (sexuality in particular), he certainly avoided the taboo of talking about death. And I say this all as a fan. I’m originally from Minnesota. And I saw the movie Purple Rain in my hometown of Winona, Minnesota when it first came out. Also, I’m proud to say that my high school (Cotter High) recorded a jazz band album in the same recording studio where Prince recorded the day before in 1980. (I played alto sax.) We could still smell his cigarette smoke. That was a pretty cool experience.

So … here’s why I’m disappointed with him:

  • His family is having to fight each other (and a bunch of strangers) over who gets what.
  • The lawyers are having a field day raking in fees, which is what Prince would NOT have wanted since he was always so careful to manage his own affairs.
  • The people who are inheriting from his estate are getting a financial windfall. This is a recipe for disaster. Various articles on the internet claim that 70% of lottery winners end up in bankruptcy. I couldn’t find any actual research about this. But from my experience, I would not be surprised about this statistic.
  • He completely missed an opportunity to help causes that he cared about … perhaps teaching music to underprivileged kids.

Anyway, I would like some popular icons and leaders to actually do a good job of planning for their deaths and give us that kind of positive experience. But, then again, I guess that wouldn’t make it in the news because it would be handled quickly and privately.

If you have any questions about Wills or Trusts, give us a call. We regularly handle high net worth estates, including some famous people. We are discrete with our clients. Prince was not my client, otherwise (a) his estate wouldn’t be an issue like it is, and (b) I wouldn’t be bad-talking about him here (because of our obligation of confidentiality).


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An elderly person such as this is more susceptible to financial exploitation from inheritance impatience because she is loney, depressed, and lacks the ability to protect herself.

Inheritance Impatience

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Recently, I came across some news articles discussing the term “Inheritance Impatience.” I had never heard this term before. Inheritance Impatience is a form of financial exploitation of the elderly. An example would when when an adult child pressures mom or dad to get their inheritance now (rather than waiting for the parent to die). Sometimes the adult child actually helps speed up the parent’s death (by withholding food or medical care). Now that I have a label it, I realize that we actually see this sort of thing happening too often.

The problem is this: The parents are at such an age that their children start thinking about what they will inherit. In fact, sometimes they get so excited that they start making plans far ahead of actually receiving the money. And too often I witness kids who decide that they can take matters into their own hands. These cases can be from mild to extreme as you might imagine but more frightening are the more subtle ways of expediting the transition from this life. Family members have commenced upon their own selfish acts such as withholding food and medical care, or choosing a nursing home that is known to provide sub-par care with discounted rates.

How can you prevent this happening to your own parent?

  • Make sure your parents have a revocable trust that becomes irrevocable when one of them passes away or becomes incapacitated. That prevents the surviving spouse from being pressured into making changes by an unscrupulous family member or caretaker.
  • Make sure the trust has a strong Trust Protector who can quickly remove and replace a trustee in case an impatient family member gets appointed as trustee.
  • Name a neutral third party as trustee when the parent can no longer effectively protect himself or herself. (In Arizona we call these companies licensed fiduciaries.)
  • Make sure to visit your parents regularly, or have someone who you trust that would be able to check in on your parents’ well being. Don’t just rely on the one family member or caretaker who happens to live close to your parents.
  • Make sure that all adult children have copies of estate planning documents. If there is a pattern of sharing all estate planning documents, then it looks more like undue influence if a set of documents if kept a secret from the rest of the family. (And undue influence can be a way of getting a court to invalidate legal documents.)

Just by being aware of this issue, you can be on the lookout for signs of financial exploitation or “inheritance impatience.” If you believe a vulnerable adult is being financially exploited or physically abused, call Adult Protective Services. They will investigate and take action as appropriate.


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Succession Planning for LLCs

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A business is like other types of property. If you die owning them in your personal name, there will need to be a probate. Don’t be like the young lady above, whose parents owned an LLC but failed to specify how the business would be managed when the parents died. Think about it. There might be payroll, bills, customers needing service. And no one is legally authorized to do anything. However, this is easily avoided. This blog will discuss two basic types of succession planning for LLCs.

In Arizona, there is a statute that covers “non-probate transfers.” As an example, if your house is in joint tenancy with your wife (or husband), then when you die, it goes to your spouse. The same thing happens with a checking account. If it’s jointly held, it goes to the joint owner.

You can do the same thing for a limited liability company (or for that matter, any other type of business). But it requires additional documentation that most people don’t do. For a limited liability company, we would rely on A.R.S. 14-6101 (“Nonprobate transfers on death; nontestamentary nature”). That statute basically says that an asset that is owned by the deceased person, and that is controlled by a written instrument, passes to a person the deceased person designates either in the written instrument or in a separate writing.

There are two basic ways to make sure a limited liability company is not tied up in probate after the owner dies. My preference is to have the LLC owned by a revocable trust. The revocable trust then says what happens to the property (including the company) after the owner dies. The second way is to name one or more beneficiaries of the member’s ownership interest in either a company document (such as a Member’s Operating Agreement) or (even simpler yet) on a separate writing like a Beneficiary Designation.

The quickest way to name a beneficiary of your LLC’s membership interest is by signing a form similar to this:

“Effective upon my death, I hereby assign all of my right, title, and interest in __________________, LLC to ______________________.”

Succession planning for LLCs can be tricky. It’s best to have an attorney do this for you because you want to make sure you are having the correct person sign it. I’m saying this because transferring assets can involve community property interests (if you are married) or other issues. If that’s the case, decide whether you want the spouse to sign a waiver of community property interest. It should also be acknowledged by a notary.

If you have any questions, feel free to give us a call at 602-443-4888.


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Should You Transfer Your Cemetery Plot to Your Trust?

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Should you transfer your cemetery plot to your trust? Yes, if you want to make sure that your wishes are carried out. In Arizona, the applicable law defines “cemetery property” that you would transfer to your trust as “a cemetery plot, including interment rights, mausoleum crypts, niches and burial spaces.”

If you have purchased such a cemetery plot or mausoleum niche (such as with a prepaid burial plan), the cemetery will give you a “Certificate of Ownership” for use of the plot. You don’t actually own the plot. There is no deed that gets recorded anywhere. Upon your death, the cemetery will contact the “next of kin” to determine what happens with your body. “Next of kin” generally means your spouse, then your kids (if you have any), or if you aren’t married and have no kids, then your parents or siblings.

But … what if your “next of kin” is someone who is irresponsible or who is estranged from you? Then what?

That would be a good reason to have a revocable living trust and to have the cemetery re-issue the Certificate of Ownership in the name of the trust. The cemetery will charge a small fee (perhaps $200) to re-issue the Certificate of Ownership. To get the ball rolling, I usually have my client sign an Assignment of the lot (or niche). I then fax or email that Assignment to the cemetery, along with the contact information for my client. The cemetery will contact the client to arrange for payment, and will then re-issue the Certificate of Ownership.

Here is the language for a sample Assignment:

Assignment of Personal Property

For value received I, [name of person] of [city and state], assign, transfer, and convey to:

[name of trustee], Trustee of the [name of trust] dated [date of trust], and any amendments thereto

The following described Interment, Entombment, Inurnment or Niche Right of Use:

[Description of the lot or niche, such as Section 6, Block 2, Lot 5, Space 3 Single] situated in [name of cemetery, and County and state of location], according to a map of said plot, Mausoleum or Columbarium filed in the office of the County Recorder of said County, and also in the office of said [name of cemetery], which map is hereby referred to and made a part hereof.

 

Dated:  ___________________                                                                                 [signature]

STATE OF ARIZONA                                              )

COUNTY OF MARICOPA                                      )  ss.

This instrument was acknowledged before me on [date], by [name].

[Seal]

                                                                                   

Notary Public

My commission expires:                                             

Once transferred to the trust, the trustee will be able to ensure that your body is properly disposed of according to your wishes. I suggest making sure that this does not conflict with any Health Care Power of Attorney or other document that gives a person the ability to decide what happens to your remains when you die. Avoid conflicts by having the same person in charge of this decision. (You don’t want your health care power of attorney and trustee fighting over what happens.)


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Business Owners Need Estate Plans

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Business owners need estate plans in order to ensure their businesses survive once they pass away. Here is why. Let’s say you own a successful business. It has lots of employees and ongoing business. There are contracts that need to be completed, and staff that needs to be paid. Then you die. You have a Will that names your spouse as the Personal Representative (executor). However, Wills need to be probated, and normally the soonest that can happen is one week from the date of death. Assuming there aren’t any hangups (such as the Will failing to waive bond), the surviving spouse can be appointed as Personal Representative right away.

But a week can be an eternity in the business world. Employment laws dictate that payroll needs to be paid within a certain time after the pay period ends. And what if there are employees in the field who need expenses covered?

Also, who is going to manage the business until it gets sold? Selling a business can’t be done in a matter of days. It takes time. Can your business last the months is normally takes to find a buyer and arrange a sale?

Here is the best way to plan ahead of time. The best way to plan ahead is to have a revocable trust that names a responsible (and business savvy) trustee to take over if you can no longer manage your business. Then make sure that your trust owns the business. If your business is an LLC, the member of the business needs to be the trust. (In other words, you will file Articles of Amendment for your LLC that replaces you as the member with, for example, “John Doe, Trustee of the ABC Trust, dated January 1, 2014.”) Make sure the trust language permits the trustee to manage an ongoing business, and that it permits the trustee to delegate the responsibility of managing the business to a replacement business manager.

NOTE: The word “manager” is used in two different ways here, and it can be confusing. The “manager” of an LLC is the person listed with the Secretary of State as the person in charge of the LLC. However, in terms of managing a business, that may be completely different people. I normally assist clients in this regard by having the LLC Manager (the person named as the official manager on the Articles of Organization) sign a Resolution naming one or more assistant managers. These assistant managers are the people who are actually on the ground running the business: making sure that paychecks get signed, continuing marketing efforts, meeting with clients, etc.

You can read more on this topic at an enterprise.com article here.

Have you heard of situations in which the business owner died and the business struggled as a result? Do you have any insights? Please share below.


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Recovering from Trustee Misconduct

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Recovering from Trustee MisconductBeneficiaries of a trust depend greatly on the trustee to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and the trust.

Unfortunately, trustees don’t always live up to the duty and responsibility of their position. Beyond creating headaches for family members and other beneficiaries, such misconduct can rob them of their inheritance.

In previous posts we covered the actions that can led to the removal of a trustee [link to post on what qualifies trustee for removal] and how to petition the court to remove the trustee and appoint a successor.

After those important steps, how do you go get back the stolen or misused money? It all depends on whether you are able to trace where the money was sent, if it was spent or if it still exists in some form. Let’s look at an example:

If a trustee used money from the trust to buy a new house, and if that house has not been sold or transferred to someone else, you can get a court order to freeze the property and eventually have it transferred back to the trust.

If the money is gone, there are three ways to recover funds:

  1. Surcharge. This applies if the trustee is also a beneficiary of the trust. In this situation, the former trustee’s inheritance from the estate can be reduced by the amount of any judgment the court passes against him or her. To have a surcharge ordered on a former trustee, you must file what’s known as a “Petition for Surcharge” with the probate court.
  2. Seize assets. If you’re able to trace the trustee’s spending to existing assets (cars, jewelry or other property), or if you’re able to show bank statements showing cash the trustee’s withdrawals from estate funds at ATM machines, the court can place a judgment against the trustee, making it more likely that you will get the money back. If the trustee has spent money on intangible purchases such as vacations, it will be much harder to get the money back.
  3. Personal refund. If the trustee has other personal assets (such as a house or bank accounts), the court can order the former trustee to turn over those assets to compensate for the value taken from the trust.

The process of getting the money returned can be lengthy. It can take from three to six months or more to settle a case recovering losses. The court process involves gathering evidence, and filing a petition with the probate court (this is all part of the steps necessary to remove a trustee).

After the court determines the amount of damages caused by the former trustee, the new trustee or other beneficiaries can then request the court to make further orders. To give an example, let’s say that a former trustee, Roger, owned a house, which used to be owned by the trust. After Roger has been removed from the position of trustee, the court can order that the house belong again to the trust. An attorney for the trust can then get a certified copy of the order and record the ownership of the property with the county recorder in the county where the property is located.

If you’re dealing with a trustee who is mishandling a trust, don’t wait to seek help. An experienced probate litigation attorney can walk you through the tricky and complicated petitioning process. It’s important to have someone knowledgeable on your side who knows the law and the court system.

Your attorney should work closely with you and the court to help you recover lost funds that are justly yours. The probate courts are there to help you and your family. Remember to act quickly and seek the assistance of an attorney. This will increase the likelihood that you will recover your inheritance.

Have any questions about recovering from trustee misconduct? Give us a call. We’d love to help.

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How to Remove a Personal Representative

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How to Remove a Personal RepresentativeSome situations in the handling of an estate warrant the removal and replacement of the executor (called a “personal representative” in Arizona) who’s been appointed by the court.

Although the person accepting the position agrees to comply with a list of laws and court orders, sometimes the representative falls short for some reason.

If the PR fails to perform the expected duties, then the deceased’s family and beneficiaries can seek help from probate court.

During the first few months of a representative’s term, when this person is learning what is required to administer an estate, the probate court is somewhat lenient. After a period of time, however, if the representative hasn’t fulfilled the required specified duties or followed procedures properly, the person may be removed as personal representative.

A PR can be removed for any of four basic reasons:

  1. If it’s in the best interest of the estate;
  2. If the personal representative had lied in the court proceeding leading to that person’s appointment as personal representative;
  3. If the personal representative disregarded a court order, has become incapable of discharging the duties of being personal representative, has mismanaged the estate, or has failed to perform any duty pertaining to the office of personal representative;
  4. If it is shown that the personal representative has intentionally disregarded the decedent’s wishes with regard to disposing of the decedent’s remains.

If you find that the PR is not fulfilling the duties of the position, the first thing you need to do is gather evidence. If it concerns the misuse of the estate’s funds, evidence can include documents such as copies of checks written to the personal representative or a copy of the deed showing that the PR transferred the decedents’ house to him or herself.

Evidence needs to be concrete. That is, the court usually does not accept situational evidence or hearsay as evidence to support removal of a PR. An example of hearsay might be a neighbor telling you that the PR said that he or she was going to steal the estate’s money or assets.

Evidence to support the removal of a personal representative can also include:

  • The fact that you have not received an inventory of the estate more than 90 days since the personal representative was appointed
  • The fact that the estate has been open for more than a year and the personal representative has not filed the required annual accounting.
  • The decedent’s house has not been listed for sale a year or more after the appointment of the personal representative.

In our firm, we frequently help families who need to remove personal representatives. It’s usually not a single incident that leads to this: In most cases the personal representative has done between five and 15 things incorrectly.

If you’re a personal representative and need help understanding and performing your duties, we can also help. If you need assistance in removing a personal representative to protect your loved one’s legacy, we can help with that, too.

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3 Ways to Reduce the Stress of a Conservatorship

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3 Ways to Reduce the Stress of a ConservatorshipThe illness, incapacity or death of a loved one is certainly an emotional blow to a family. Additional stress can come from disputes regarding the conservatorship of loved ones – especially when things don’t go smoothly.

A conservatorship deals with money, which can be stressful on its own. A conservator has many responsibilities in the position. In addition to managing the incapacitated person’s affairs, the conservator is responsible for keeping detailed accounting records and for providing annual reports to the courts that detail the protected person’s assets.

Here are three ways to reduce the stress of serving as conservator:

  1. Keep all financial accounts separate.
  2. Never use the money for personal expenditures.
  3. File annual accountings with the court.

Of course, there’s a fourth tip as well: Hire a qualified CPA or probate law firm to help you keep track of the conservatorship assets. This is often the best way to reduce stress in a conservatorship. It will give you the personal confidence that things are being done correctly, and will reduce your risk for personal liability.

Being a conservator is a detail-oriented job, and one that involves providing for the needs of the incapacitated person while keeping track of all income and expenditures. At the same time, family members or other involved parties may have concerns about how the conservator is fulfilling his or her responsibilities. They may wonder if conservator is making bad choices or they may even suspect the conservator of stealing money from the protected person’s accounts.

Wherever money is involved, emotions can run high (as can temptation). And since a conservatorship involves money management for a protected person, conservators need to take care to understand their responsibilities, and follow them. At the same time, family members or involved parties need to be aware of potential mistakes or, worse, misdoings.

If, for example, a conservator squanders money reserved for the care of the protected person, the family or involved parties may feel they need to call the police for assistance. But in these instances, the police will usually not take any action, stating that it is a “civil matter”. Such situations then must be handled through probate court.

If you suspect something is amiss with a conservator, do what you can to gather evidence about the situation to make sure the conservatorship is being handled properly. If the conservator is mishandling the estate, enlist the assistance of an experienced probate attorney to resolve the situation and, if necessary, recover lost funds or assets.

Remember, it is natural to feel some stress if you’re involved in a court proceeding involving a conservatorship. You are likely unfamiliar with particular court rules and laws as well as uncertain of how to deal with judges and lawyers.

But you’re not alone. If you have a loved one who needs the assistance of a conservator or have been appointed as a conservator, it’s important to consult with an experienced probate attorney.  We’re here to help – and to put your mind (as well as that of the protected person) at ease.

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How to Handle Estate Emergencies After a Loved One Passes Away

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How to Handle Estate Emergencies After a Loved One Passes AwayDealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult. But death isn’t always the hardest part for the survivors. Many family members are surprised by the challenges and conflicts that arise after the funeral when the family works to settle the estate. If you find that you cannot resolve a conflict regarding your loved one’s estate, you may need to seek assistance from an experienced probate attorney.

I’ve worked with many families in which bickering siblings made emotionally charged and hasty decisions when they distributed the personal property of a deceased parent. It often ended in chaos. Often, I’ve found that executors or trustees grossly mismanage bank accounts and other assets, and consequently deprive remaining family members of their portions of their parent’s legacy.

Naturally, everyone wants the administration of a deceased person’s property and money to be orderly and methodical. But if it isn’t, and if you feel the situation is on the verge falling apart or has already deteriorated into an estate emergency – through misunderstandings or power struggles or other complicated interpersonal relationships – you have two legal options:

  1. Get a personal representative or executor appointed by the court (if one hasn’t already been appointed), or
  2. Petition for an immediate protective order from the court (if the appointed representative or executor is mismanaging the estate).

The biggest mistake I see families make when they try to resolve arguments about distributing their deceased loved one’s belongings and property is to take the law into their own hands. It’s vitally important that you go through proper legal channels to handle an estate. This avoids later flare-ups and also ensures an orderly distribution of assets and legacies. Take these essential steps:

  1. Secure the estate’s property until an executor or personal representative is appointed. If necessary, enlist the help of a third-party fiduciary to do this by being appointed as a Special Administrator. (The police will not intervene in family-estate issues.)
  2. File for an immediate protective order from the court with the assistance of an experienced probate attorney.
  3. Have a representative or executor appointed to manage the estate.

With a qualified representative or executor is in place an estate can be settled according to the will or trust that a loved one has left in place. Without quick action and the help from a special administrator, you risk a delay in probate proceedings and the disappearance of personal property.

If, after your loved one has died, you find that his or her estate is not being administered fairly or methodically, you may have an emergency on your hands. Be prepared to take immediate action if you suspect foul play or mismanagement of personal property in these instances. Talk to a probate lawyer right away.

Delayed action may leave you with no inheritance and no recourse. Working with an experienced estate attorney will not bring your loved one back, but it will ease your mind knowing that your late loved one’s wishes will be carried out.

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Life and Estate-Planning: What Is a Conservatorship?

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Life and Estate Planning What Is a ConservatorshipWhen an adult is no longer able to care for himself or herself, the court can appoint another person to take over responsibility of managing finances and other everyday affairs. The person appointed (usually a spouse, family member, relative or hired professional) would serve as conservator and collect income and pay expenses on behalf of the protected person.

It can be difficult for an adult child to let a parent know that a conservator is needed. A parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s, for example, may not be aware of a problem. The parent can also become confused in thinking that the child is trying to take over money matters. The parent may think that the child is trying to cheat the parent, or the parent might feel that a vestige of independence is being removed.

Most such situations are resolved by requiring the person in need of help to go through neurological and psychological examination by a trained physician, psychologist or registered nurse. The court relies heavily on the results from these examinations to determine the need for a conservator.

This level of care protects those who are incapacitated from losing assets and being evicted from their homes or living facilities because they have failed to make payments.

Conservators are not, however, required to pay for the care of the protected person with the conservator’s own resources. The conservator should use the protected person’s resources to take care of expenses. The conservator can then apply for government benefits if needed to pay for the cost of care.

Some of a conservator’s duties include:

  • Obtaining a credit report on behalf of the protected person.
  • Creating a budget for the protected person’s finances.
  • Sending annual accounting reports to the court, as specified in that state.

Should the conservator fail to fulfill these responsibilities, he or she can be replaced by someone better suited to the position. Conservators who mismanage funds can be held personally liable.

If you have an aging loved one who is not making careful financial decisions, a conservatorship can be a good solution. Conservatorships are complicated. If you don’t like balancing your own checkbook or reviewing financial statements, then acting as a conservator is probably not something you should undertake. You may benefit from the help and direction of a financial conservator.

If you have questions about conservatorship or serving as a conservator, I’d love to help. Please comment below or contact our office.

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Estate Planning Basics: Trust Assets and Probate Assets

Estate Planning Basics Trust Assets and Probate AssetsEstate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. It’s an important element of protecting the people you love and the legacy you want to leave behind. An estate is made up of assets.

Assets can be any form of cash, physical property or intangible benefits. These include:

•  A house
•  other real estate
•  business interests
•  stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
•  money-market accounts
•  brokerage accounts
•  royalty contracts, patents, and copyrights
•  jewelry and antiques
•  precious metals
•  works of art
•  valuable collections

For estate-planning purposes, assets fall into two main categories: trust assets and probate assets. Assets held within a trust [link to post on trusts] are referred to as trust assets. Assets that are not within the trust are called probate assets. I’d like to outline the two, and show why creating trust assets is preferable in estate planning.

Trust assets

The advantage of putting assets into a trust include reduced estate taxes and greater control in how your descendants will receive their inheritance. When you put your assets into a trust, you no longer own the assets legally, which become known as trust assets.

You can decide what you’d like to be put into a trust, to become a trust asset, and you do this by having the item or property or deed officially given to the trust, with a title in the form of a deed or other legal documentation. For example, a certificate of title for a car owned by a trust should show John Doe, Trustee, or something similar indicates that it’s the trust that owns the asset, and not John Doe himself. There are various ways to transfer property such as jewelry, art, coins and other collectables, and an estate planning attorney can assist with this.

Probate assets

All assets that are not included in the trust are probate assets. A court proceeding is necessary to determine how these probate assets can be distributed. Thus, it makes sense to consider assigning assets to a trust, to avoid having your heirs go through probate court to receive any legacies you have assigned them.

The actual act of transferring assets to a trust can be a bit complicated and challenging, even for an attorney who has some experience with this process. But it’s worth the time to work with an experienced estate attorney to set up a trust for assets so that your estate can run smoothly.

Get help from someone who is skilled in estate planning and probate. It’s critical that you have legal documentation that the trust owns the assets. Without such documentation, these assets cannot be distributed as part of the trust and, as I mentioned, they’re considered probate assets.

The consequences of a poorly planned estate can affect not only the peace of mind of your survivors, but can be detrimental to the value and distribution of the assets you leave behind.

Find an experienced attorney who is familiar with probate law and asset protection in your state to protect your family and protect your legacy. [link to service line questionnaire]

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Estate Planning: What Is a Trust?

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Estate Planning What Is a TrustA trust is similar to a will. It’s an elegant way of specifying how your property gets distributed upon your death. Property placed in a trust can pass to your designated beneficiaries without the delays and expense of going to probate court.

But – a big but – a living trust is not a complete substitute for a will. You won’t be able to name a guardian for a minor child, for example. For many people a trust is a more efficient way to transfer property at death, especially large-ticket items such as a house. Here are a few benefits of placing your property in a trust:

  1. You can avoid probate. This allows you to bypass probate and to pass the property directly to your designated beneficiaries. This is especially important if you own real property in multiple states.
  2. A trust can help with property management for those who can’t or do not want to manage for themselves. (This is particularly beneficial for older individuals who want to make sure they will be cared for without the need for guardianship or conservatorship.)
  3. Trusts can reduce estate and gift taxes.
  4. A trust protects assets from creditors and lawsuits better than does a will.
  5. If you want to protect family wealth for future generations, you can set up a trust to protect these assets (whether a business or other accumulated assets). You can also save estate taxes (if this is relevant). A trust can also protect these assets from irresponsible heirs over several generations.

There are a variety of types of trusts. They are both flexible and complex. One of the most common types of trusts is called an AB trust, also called a bypass trust. An AB trust helps provide significant estate-tax savings as well as preserve assets to survive the blending of families when and if spouses get remarried. You need three things to create a trust for your estate:

  1. The creator, also called settlor or grantor
  2. Trust property
  3. Beneficiaries

You don’t need to name someone to manage your trust (though this is certainly a good idea). The court can always choose someone to administer the trust. You can have a trust as long as you have someone who created the trust, you have property in the trust and some identifiable beneficiaries.

Think of a trust as a special place where ordinary property from your estate goes, as the result of some type of transformation that occurs, that takes on a new identity with immunity from estate taxes and resistance to probate. In this article, I primarily discussed “living trusts” or revocable trusts. You can read more about this type of legal instrument here.

I’d love to hear from you. If you have any questions please give us a call or leave a comment below.

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The Role of a Personal Representative, Part 2

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The Role of an Estate Planning Representative, Part 2As I mentioned in my previous video, a good estate plan covers key life decisions. Your personal representative will be the one to make the necessary decisions to carry out your wishes.

Here are further responsibilities, based on the law in Arizona, but pertinent no matter where you live in the U.S.

  1. Provide an inventory of assets. This is where having an attorney with some experience comes in handy to help you classify different types of assets, especially personal property like furniture, ceramics or porcelain and photographs.
  2. Comply with the applicable standards of care. As personal representative, you are required to perform duties with prudence, reasonable care and caution.
  3. Keep detailed records. Keep and maintain records of everything: copies of checks, receipts, bills. Everything. You need to be able to prove where every dollar goes. So, avoid dealing in cash.
  4. Pay valid debts and expenses. There’s a specific procedure for determining whether a debt is valid. This takes into account all the debt and how to treat creditors equally as part of a personal representative’s fiduciary duty.
  5. Pay applicable taxes. Always pay applicable taxes before paying creditors and distributing assets.
  6. Distribute remaining assets. After all taxes and expenses have been paid, the remainder of assets can be distributed as the will has specified.
  7. Change the address of the estate. Until probate is closed and you complete your role as personal representative, you must notify the court in writing if you move or if your mailing address changes.
  8. Document payment your receipt of payment as personal representative. It’s important to document meticulously the time you’ve spent and the expenses you’ve incurred when seeking reimbursement from the estate you’re managing.
  9. Court involvement. The court prefers minimal involvement in settling estates where a personal representative has been appointed, but will get involved if the estate is not closed within two years.

To be sure your wishes are carried out, carefully select a personal representative for your estate. A little extra planning now can protect your family’s future. You can read more about a personal representative’s duties here.

If you have any questions about the duties of a personal representative, I’d love to help.


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What are the Duties of a Personal Representative?

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What are the Duties of a Personal RepresentativeA good estate plan covers key life decisions such as what happens to your home and other assets if you die. It also addresses who will care for your children and financial assets if you pass away. Your personal representative will be the one to make the necessary decisions to carry out your wishes.

The role of personal representative is a big responsibility. Settling the estate of a deceased person requires attention to detail. It’s important to select someone who is qualified for this position regardless of your net worth.

Specific duties and responsibilities can vary slightly from state to state. I practice in Arizona, but in this two-part overview, you’ll be able to get a sense of the duties of a personal representative, regardless of where you live in the United States.

  1. Act as personal representative. Perform fiduciary duty of fairness and impartiality to the beneficiaries and to the creditors, to be cautious and prudent in dealing with the state assets.
  2. Gather, control and manage estate assets. This is not moving into the deceased parent’s house and taking over assets for personal use. The personal representative oversees the execution of the will and makes sure that the assets are distributed according to the will.
  3. Provide notice of the appointment. You will need to notify your state’s revenue department and all of the heirs and devisees that you have been appointed. These heirs and devisees have four months to contest the probate.
  4. Provide notice of the admission of the will to probate. This is a form that gets filed with the court and delivered to those involved in the estate. It explains the duties and responsibilities of a personal representative.
  5. Mail copies of the order to the personal representative. You must mail copies of the order to the personal representative to the heirs and devisees.
  6. File proof of compliance. A notarized statement must be filed with the court affirming that the order to the personal representative was sent out.
  7. Publish notice to creditors with the court. You will need to notify creditors that they have a certain period of time to file a claim and give them instructions on how to file and pursue being paid.
  8. Protect assets. It is your responsibility to secure and keep valuables safe.
  9. Determine whether there are any statutory allowances. Statutory allowances can include a homestead allowance, exempt property allowance and a family allowance.

We will continue with this list in our next post. This is an important part of estate-planning. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does help if you have a sense of what the roles and responsibilities of a personal representative are.

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