How Large Of An Estate Do I Need Before I Should Start Estate Planning?

I have had a number of people over the years tell me “I don’t need to estate plan – I don’t have much of an estate to plan.” Of course, these same people often follow up this statement with the question: “How big of an estate do I need before I worry about estate planning?” The purpose of this article is to explain what Estate Planning is and why it is important for even those without a large estate.

The question shouldn’t be “How big of an estate do I need before I worry about estate planning” – the real question is “If I don’t do any Estate Planning, who will be affected by my lack of planning?” The point of Estate Planning is to, first, set in place legally enforceable processes to be followed if you become incompetent because of an accident, injury or disease, and second, to identify who will manage your assets and how that person will manage your assets upon your passing. The answer to the question “If I don’t do any Estate Planning, who will be affected by my lack of planning?” is your spouse, your parents, your children and your siblings are the ones that could be negatively affected if you don’t do your Estate Planning.

If you don’t create and sign the appropriate Estate Planning documents before you become incompetent, then your spouse, parents, siblings or adult children will likely be required to go to Court to have a judge decide whether or not you truly are incompetent and if so, then to decide who should manage your financial affairs, your medical care and make sure your day-to-day needs are met. This involves paying attorneys to draft Court documents, paying Court filing fees, have a random Judge decide whether or not you are incompetent and, if so, who will manage your life from that point forward and how that person will manage your life. You can avoid the time, expense and loss of control of this Court process by having a proper Estate Plan drafted. The Courts do not generally need to be involved at all if you have a proper Estate Plan, to include a Financial Power of Attorney, a Medical Power of Attorney and a Living Trust.

The answer to the question “How big of an estate do I need before I worry about estate planning” begins with the definition of ‘Estate Planning’. Some simply define Estate Planning as the process of preparing for the transfer of a person’s wealth and assets after his or her death. I think a better definition of Estate Planning is as follows: the process of preparing and signing documents that, first, identify who will manage a person’s assets and manager his or her affairs if he or she becomes incompetent. Second, identify who will manage the gathering, liquidating and distribution of that person’s assets upon their death, and third, how the person’s assets will be gathered, liquidated and distributed upon his or her death. This definition of Estate Planning is much broader and much more accurate as to the true purpose of Estate Planning.

There is no one-size-fits-all to Estate Planning, and the answers to the above questions will really depend on your situation. But overall, no matter how many or how few assets you think you have, everyone can benefit from Estate Planning. Contact Addison Larreau at Mountain View Law Group today to discuss your estate planning questions – (801) 393-5555.

Electronic Information and Estate Planning

An Important Component of Your Estate Plan Should Be a List of Logins and Passwords for Your Online Accounts.

Recently, I read an article that brought up an interesting, and I think, important estate planning issue: if you were to become incompetent and need to rely on another to assist you with you financial affairs, would that person have any idea how to access your online accounts?  This caused me to start making a mental inventory of all the online accounts that I use daily, weekly or monthly to manage my finances and communications.  The number of logins and passwords for all my online accounts added up quickly.  It became clear that it could be very difficult for someone to do something as apparently simple as paying my month bills without knowing how to access my online accounts.

For example, my wife, Nicole, and I don’t receive through the mail paper statements or bills from utilities or other providers – everything is delivered electronically to Nicole’s email, if at all.  We pay all of our monthly bills online, directing our bank to issue checks or make electronic payments when monthly bills become due.    For some types of bills, we have set up automatic payments that happen each month on a particular day.  When an automatic payment is made, the bank emails a confirmation to Nicole’s email address so we know the payment has been made and the amount of the payment.  For other types of bills, the process isn’t totally automatic.  When a bill will shortly become due, the bank sends a reminder to Nicole’s email account and then we log into our bank account online to manually authorize the payment through the website.  We then receive a confirmation through Nicole’s email when the payment is mailed to the provider.   In order to confirm that a payment was properly received and applied to a particular bill, we access our online account with each provider.

Does your spouse or significant other know your online accounts and how to access them? If you were to become incapacitated, would your family know how to access your financial account and information? By having this information with the rest of your estate plan documents, your family will know where to find it when needed. They can then help:

  • Locate any accounts you have online
  • Access those accounts or the information in those accounts
  • Distribute or transfer any assets to the appropriate parties
  • Avoid online identity theft

If you need assistance with your estate planning needs, contact the attorneys at Mountain View Law Group today for a free consultation. (801) 393-5555

Rebecca M.

Addison was a pleasure to work with and explained all information in detail. We were extremely satisfied working together with Addison.

Brian B.

Addison was extremely helpful in the living trust process and patient with us as we asked questions. It was a very easy process to follows. The office was flexible and willing to work around our schedule. Glad we got this done so we don’t have to worry about what happens with our assets when we pass on.

Lynn P.

I would give Addison Larreau a five star review for everything he did for us! His staff was professional, and Addison went through everything in detail with us. We had a prior trust done and the attorney didn’t go through anything, so we were kind of lost. And Addison even got me a band aid when I scratched my arm!

Basically they went above and beyond to make sure we understood everything and that all areas were covered. I feel like I can complete the process and get my trust all set up, and it will be done right this time!

Wendy A.

Addison and his staff were very helpful. Addison spent the time to explain everything in detail. He made us feel like we had everything in place with our Trust before we left. I would definitely recommend his law firm.

Carla P.

We worked with Addison Larreau to create our Living Trust! He is very knowledgeable and easy to work with. He walked us through each section of the Trust and explained everything along the way. We are very happy with Mr. Larreau’s attention to detail and our resulting Living Trust! We highly recommend using the expertise of Addison Larreau if you are planning your estate! Professional, Ethical and Comprehensive! Thank you Mr. Larreau!

Last Will and Testaments Require Probate

On a regular basis, clients or potential clients will tell me that “I have a Last Will and Testament, so I won’t have to Probate when I die.”   Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

A Last Will and Testament, or a Will for short, is a document that is created during life, that identifies that upon the Will maker’s passing he or she wants a named individual to act as Personal Representative, or Executor.  The Personal Representative, or Executor, is appointed to gather in the deceased person’s assets, pay legitimate creditors and then to distribute the remaining assets to those individuals identified in the Will as the deceased person’s heirs.  Before the named Personal Representative or Executor has any authority pursuant to a Will, the Will must be authenticated by the District Court for the county in which the Will maker lived when he or she died.  Only then will the Personal Representative or Executor have the legal authority to gather and manage the deceased person’s assets.   Or in other words, until a judge reviews a Will and finds that the Will is a valid Will, the person identified as the Personal Representative or Executor has no authority and cannot do what the Will identifies that the deceased person wanted done with his or her assets.  The legal proceeding by which a judge reviews a Will to determine whether that Will is a valid (or invalid) Will and gives authority to the Personal Representative, or Executor, to do what the Will says should be done with the deceased person’s assets is called Probate.

There are several effective ways to avoid Probate, the most common of which is by having a properly drafted Living Trust.  If you have additional questions regarding Wills and Probate, or want to learn about how to avoid Probate through a Living Trust, contact Mountain View Law Group for a free Estate Planning Consultation with Addison D. Larreau.  Mountain View Law Group can be reached at (801) 393-5555 or at MountainViewLawGroup.com.

Estate Planning to Care for Children with Special Needs

Parents of children with special needs must be particularly careful in how they estate plan to avoid creating a scenario in which their special needs child is disqualified for benefits such as Social Security Disability Benefits, Medicaid, housing benefits and other needs based benefits for those with special needs.  The use of a special type of Trust, known as a Special Needs Trust  is the ideal way to protect a special needs child’s right to benefits while also making assets available to supplement and enhance the special needs child’s standard of living.

If a parent fails to create a proper Estate Plan or creates a typical Will based or Living Trust based Estate Plan, upon the parents’ death, any inherited assets will transfer to the special needs child or his or her guardian.  Upon this occurring, the special needs child will typically be disqualified for need based benefits, such as Social Security Disability, Medicaid and housing benefits, until the inherited assets have been depleted.  Once the assets inherited from the parents or grandparents have been depleted, the special needs child will then need to reapply and requalify for benefits. This can create a significant hardship for the special needs child and his or her guardian.  There is a better way to Estate Plan to protect a special needs child from this hardship – the use of a Special Needs Trust (“SNT”).

A SNT is a Trust created by the parents or grandparents of a special needs child which provides that assets owned by the Trust are to only be used to supplement – and not replace – financial, medical and housing benefits for which the special needs child qualifies or may in the future qualify.  Someone other than the special needs child will act as Trustee and will have discretion how and when to use the SNT assets.  The special needs child has no ability to compel the Trustee to use or distribute funds for the special needs child’s benefit.  Because the special needs child cannot determine when or how the SNT assets are used, the SNT assets are not attributed to him or her as assets or as income for determining his or her qualification for needs based financial, medical or housing benefits.

The great benefit of a SNT is that assets left for the benefit of a special needs child can be used to supplement the standard of living for the special needs child, rather than be consumed in providing for the basic needs that typically would be provided for with financial, medical and housing benefits available to the special needs child.  SNT assets would typically be used by the Trustee for activities such as recreation, education, travel, uncovered medical and dental needs and other activities or needs which were provided to the special needs child by the parents or grandparent while they were alive.  This allows the parents or grandparents to continue to elevate and bless the life of the special needs child even after the parents or grandparents have passed on.

SNT are complex and must be very carefully drafted to be effective in preserving a special needs child’s financial, medical and housing benefits.  Addison D. Larreau, Mountain View Law Group’s Estate Planning Attorney, has extensive experience in drafting and implementing Special Needs Trusts for concerned parents and grandparents.  Please contact Mountain View Law Group at (810) 393-5555 to schedule a complimentary appointment with Addison D. Larreau to discuss your Estate Planning needs.