Estate planning: When only a will doesn’t cut it.

For many people, the most important document isn’t their will, it’s their IRA or 401(k).  That’s because many financial products, including retirement accounts and life insurance policies are legal contracts and override anything in your will.

So, no matter what your will says, the payouts from these products will go to the beneficiaries you designated when you filled out the forms, even if that was decades ago. That’s why it is important that you review beneficiaries regularly and choose contingent beneficiaries as backups, just in case. For example, you probably don’t want any of your estate to go to a former spouse so you need to make sure you update any documents that name them as a beneficiary.

For most people this should be enough, but for for those substantial assets it might be be best to set up a trust(s). By doing this you can exercise more control, minimize taxes and avoid potential challenges by heirs.

The best part of a trust is they don’t go through probate and are not public record, making the settling of an estate less complicated and less prone to legal challenges. Of course you will need to contact an attorney to decide what type of trust is best or you.

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Power of attorney, living wills & end of life

End-of-life issues can be extremely complex, and many people avoid making decisions about how such issues will be handled because it can be an uncomfortable and difficult subject to address. However, it is crucial that you do spend time thinking about how you want your final days to play out, both for your own personal comfort and for the well-being of your loved ones. At the very least, strongly consider making a living will and determining who you want to grant a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions.

The Living Will

living will is a document that sets forth what to do, and what not to do, if you are incapacitated and unable to make those decisions. This could be because you are in a coma, suffered a debilitating injury, or because you have become seriously mentally incapacitated. Here are some of the most basic considerations to account for in your living will:

  • Life-Prolonging Medical Care: Your living will should state whether you want to receive life-prolonging treatments at the end of your life. Typical treatments include blood transfusions, respirators, dialysis, drug treatment and surgery.
  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Directives: In conjunction with directives about whether you want to receive life-prolonging medical care, most living wills will state whether or not you want to be resuscitated (CPR) at the end of your life. It is advisable to let your doctor and local hospital know about your DNR decisions and, if you do not want paramedics to try to resuscitate you, to wear a Medic Alert bracelet, anklet or necklace with those instructions.
  • Life-Prolonging Food and Water: Often, if someone is comatose or seriously injured, they will only be able to survive through the external administration of food and water. When such treatment is stopped, the patient will die naturally of dehydration and medical professionals will typically apply medication to make such a passing comfortable. You should specify whether you want to receive food and water, under what conditions and timelines you would like to receive such treatment and when to stop it.
  • Pain Management: Even if you decide you want to let death occur naturally, without intervening care, it does not mean you have to die with pain. Now commonly called comfort care or palliative care, the goal of such care is to emphasize qualify of life and dignity by keeping the patient comfortable and free of pain until they pass. Specify in your living will if you want doctors to emphasize pain management at the end of your life.

Need a Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney? An Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

Imagine suffering from a massive stroke, resulting in the inability to move your body or even speak, and thus unable to convey your wishes to doctors or other caretakers. That is what living wills and powers of attorney are meant to remedy. But it’s important to get ahead of the curve while you’re healthy and lucid. Learn more about your health care and end-of-life legal options by speaking with an estate planning attorney near you today.

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Talk about dying

We’ve mentioned it before but many people delay estate planning because they don’t want to talk about death, their own specifically. But it has to be done. By not discussing it you can leave much uneeded stress for those you leave behind.

Getting your estate plans in order doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some common questions:

  • If you wind up on life support, o you want to remain on it or have someone pull the plug?
  • Who do you want to carry out your last wishes. Who will be your executor?
  • How do you want your assets distributed?

Main documents

Power of Attorney for healthcare: Who will make decisions for yo if you can’t?

A living will; In some states this is called an advanced medical directive. This is for end-of-life decisions, like life support.


It is very common for people to forget to update their beneficiaries on various forms. This is most important if you’ve remarried. For example, chances are you don’t want to leave your 401(k) to your ex-spouse.

These are just a few of the things to remember when estate planning. Contact a credible estate professional who will be able to help you with the details and with anything we haven’t mentioned here.

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Non-grantor trusts to be regulated by IRS

The IRS and Treasury Department have joined forces to issue regulation regarding non-grantor trusts which have been used by wealthy people to avoid the property tax deduction cap in the new tax reform law.

In Notice 2018-61, the IRS and Treasury say they plan to release regulations to provide clarification on the effect of section 67(g) of the tax code on the deductibility of certain expenses described in section 67(b) and (e) that are incurred by estates and non-grantor trusts.

One way some wealthy peeople are getting around the new law is by setting up limited liability companies for their residences in high-tax states such as here in New York and then transferring interests in them to separate trusts set up in low-tax states like Alaska, where each trust can claim up to a $10,000 deduction for property taxes.

Four northeastern states have sued the govt over the new law as we wrote about here: 4 Northeastern states sue Trump administration .




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#1 estate planning mistake

So, you did everything you were supposed to; set up trusts and did all the rest. There was just one small mistake. You forgot to tell anyone where your will and all those other documents are. If you don’t let anyone know where your will is, it will be as if it doesn’t exist and the state will do what it wants with your property and assets.

Mark Bradstreet, C.P.A. with Bradstreet and Co. tells Cincinnatti’s Journal-News that 

“To not let anyone know where your will and documents are – if you don’t do that, then for all intents and purposes, you never had a will,” said Bradstreet. “If you die without one, the state uses their own rules to effectively come up with a will for you.”

Bradstreet recommends writing a letter to hand-out to trusted family members that include,

“where your will is at, who has got it, who is your attorney, safe deposit keys – a lot of people will go ahead and list out their different assets, and their different account numbers.”

These days there are many online ways to create a will yourself, but Bradstreet recommends working with an attorney who will help you make sure your wishes are carried out.

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