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    Category Archives: Death

    Smart Families Plan with Logic, Not Emotion

    When it comes to family, money, and death, it’s hard not to feel emotional. And while emotion can be a great motivator for helping us act, it can also cloud oupset-coupleur judgment or prevent us from making decisions that are best for ourselves or our loved ones.

    As an estate planning attorney, I have seen my fair share of emotions. That’s why I keep a tissue box in hand’s reach at my office anytime I meet with my clients. My favorite story is when I had a young couple come in to name permanent guardians for their baby and after they both logically agreed that the wife’s mother was not a suitable choice, the wife then broke down in tears and sobbed until her husband leaned over to me and said “just put her mother down as the guardian.”

    Here are 3 tips for helping you make important estate planning decisions for your family without letting emotion get in the way:

    1. Involve a Third Party. Whether it’s a counselor, an attorney, or a pastor, having an educated neutral third party present to help you talk through a decision can help temper your emotions. It’s best to use a third party who will not be personally affected by your decision, who is well-educated on the topic at hand, and can provide you real life insight on how your decision will likely play out. You’re also more likely to put on a good game face for the third-party than you would have had you made the decision with just your spouse or alone.
    2. Use an Objective Process For Making a Decision. Having objective criteria for making a decision can be tremendously helpful. When we help parents name guardians for their children, we take them through an easy three step process that helps them objectively decide on a guardian, rather than just relying on emotion. For example, we have parents identify their top three priorities when it comes to raising their kids. Then we ask them if the people they have in mind for raising their kids meet that objective criteria.
    3. Don’t Let Other People’s Feelings Influence Your Decisions. Many of our clients are so worried about hurting other people’s feelings when it comes to choosing who should serve in key roles under their estate plan. They think their oldest son will feel hurt if he is not chosen as the trustee, even if he cannot handle large sums of money. They think one sister will be devastated if the other sister is chosen as a guardian. While people’s feelings are important, they should never trump making a decision that it truly best for your children or other beneficiaries.

    Making important decisions for your family, especially ones that can be life lasting, requires the help and guidance of a trusted family attorney. Call your Newport Beach estate planning law firm today and learn how our easy process can help you make important decisions that will benefit your family for a lifetime.

    To get started on making important decisions for your estate plan, call our Client Services Director, Bonnie Johnson, at 949.718.0420 or email her at bjohnson@meierfirm.com and request our free guide “How to Choose a Trustee”, or if you’re ready to get started on making decisions ask Bonnie to schedule a planning session with a Meier Law Firm attorney.

    How to Reduce the Risk of Identity Theft When a Loved One Dies

    A new trend in identity theft – afterlife identity theft – is on the rise, with thieves scouring obituaries for personal information to steal the identities of those who have passed.  When you lose a loved one, it is important to take quick action and notify a number of institutions and government agencies about the death to help prevent afterlife identity theft. Internet security

    The National Funeral Directors Association provides a list of government and credit reporting agencies, creditors and banks for notification, including:

    • Social Security Administration
    • Veteran’s Administration (if the decedent formerly served in the military)
    • Defense Finance and Accounting Service (military service retiree receiving benefits)
    • Office of Personnel Management (if the decedent is a former federal civil service employee)
    • S. Citizen and Immigration Service (If the decedent was not a U.S. citizen)
    • State Department of Motor Vehicles (If the decedent had a driver’s license)
    • Credit card and merchant card companies
    • Banks, savings and loan associations and credit unions
    • Mortgage companies and lenders
    • Financial planners and stock brokers
    • Pension providers
    • Life insurers and annuity companies
    • Health, medical and dental insurers
    • Disability insurers
    • Automotive insurer
    • Mutual benefit companies
    • All three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion
    • Any memberships held by the decedent (ex: health clubs, professional associations, clubs, library etc.)

    The NFDA recommends that you notify these entities first by phone followed by a written confirmation, where you will need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate, the decedent’s Social Security number and, if you are the executor or administrator of an estate, the verification of your appointment by a probate court.  Be sure to ask the funeral home you are using if they can provide notification services for you, as many do.

    If you would like to have a talk about protecting your loved ones through estate planning, call your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys at the Meier Law Firm to schedule an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

    “And the Estate Planning Oscar Goes To…” Lessons on Film About Family

    The film “Black Heirlooms” has not received any Oscar nominations. It was made by 32-year-old Amanda Brown, whose grandmother’s long-term illness ripped her once close-knit family apart for lack of long-term care planning. grandmother

    Profiled recently in the New York Times, the film is “about the extended uncomfortable, intergenerational conversations that we do not have enough of and that her family did not have until it was too late.”

    Vonley and Edna Mae Royal raised eight children and saw them all graduate from college. Vonley had several businesses that provided a small inheritance for his wife after he died. Following his death, the Royal children tried to get Edna Mae to talk about how she wanted her estate divided after she died. However, when she proved resistant to such a discussion, her children backed off. “We didn’t want to give her the impression that we were trying to gain some kind of advantage,” said her son Gary.

    Edna Mae had a stroke in 2009 and her children soon became divided on how she should be taken care of once she was discharged from the hospital, whether or not she could make that decision for herself and who should have power of attorney over her affairs. The family eventually wound up in court, exhausting any inheritance they might have had on legal fees and dividing many family members.

    Today, 90-year-old Edna Mae is taken care of by five of her eight children; the other three do not speak to their siblings and rarely see their mother. The inheritance that Edna Mae worked so hard to maintain for her own care and her children’s inheritance is gone. In the film, her granddaughter Amanda wonders, “Now that the family is divided, what was the point of working so hard to keep everything intact?”

    If you have been putting off this conversation in your family, we can help. Executing a plan for your own health care can be extremely fulfilling, knowing that you are making your wishes known and alleviating family of the burden of guessing the right health care choices for you.

    If you would like to have a talk about estate and long-term care planning for your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session.  We can not only guide you through the creation of your own plan, we can also assist you with that all-important family discussion.

    No One Feeling Good About Continuing Battle Over James Brown Estate

    James Brown was known for his signature song, “I Feel Good,” but no one is feeling good about the battle that is still being waged over his estate almost a decade after his death in 2006.  meier family 1

    The majority of Brown’s estate – estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars – was distributed via his will to the I Feel Good Trust to provide scholarships to underprivileged children in South Carolina and Georgia. None of those estate proceeds have been distributed to date, due to ongoing litigation between Brown’s fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, his seven children and the trust.

    It is hard to imagine a bigger legal mess than the one created by Brown’s death. He has seven children and during the estate battle several more people stepped forward claiming they were Brown’s children as well. The legality of his marriage to Hynie has been called into question. Two sets of trustees have already been removed from the case.

    The South Carolina Attorney General brokered a deal in 2009 to split the estate’s assets, with half going to the trust, a quarter to Hynie and a quarter to be split among his children. That deal was dissolved by a South Carolina Supreme Court decision last year that found the state had overreached its authority in the matter and disregarded Brown’s final wishes.

    The latest twist is a decision in mid-January 2015 by a South Carolina judge granting a journalist’s Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to emails that include appraisals of Brown’s assets and discussions about Hynie’s diary as well as how much the state should pay a local law firm involved in the fight over the estate.

    Meanwhile, the estate continues to earn millions from Brown’s recordings, and has paid millions to creditors, lawyers and other debtors. However, not one dollar has been given to the scholarship program Brown envisioned.

    While a challenge to Brown’s will may not have been preventable considering the number of relatives he left behind, titling a majority of his assets to the trust before his death may have stemmed the tide of ongoing litigation and provided the funds for the education of children he wanted to help. And since a trust is private, unlike a will, it could have prevented the public scrutiny over his affairs.

    This is a common error made by estate planning lawyers, even those hired by wealthy people like James Brown.  Unfortunately, whether you have significant financial wealth or not, the impact is the same on your family — if your assets are not titled properly in a trust at the time of your death, your family will end up in Court. It’s a guarantee.  Let us help your family stay out of Court.

    If you would like to have a talk about how an estate plan can help protect your family, call your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys today at the Meier Law Firm to schedule an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session.  We can not only guide you through the creation of your own plan, we can also assist you with that all-important family discussion so your wishes are respected.

    10 Tips to Ensure Family Harmony Over Your Estate Plan

    When your children were small, you no doubt suffered the challenge of keeping peace in the family.  We see this same scenario play out time after time among adult siblings when a messy estate causes family rifts. Here are 10 tips to help prevent your children from fighting over your estate: meier family

    1. Talk to children about your estate plan. It may be a difficult discussion to have, but you need to have it. If you find it too difficult, enlist the help of your estate planning attorney to go over the details of your estate plan with your children and answer their questions.
    2. Write your children a letter. If you can’t face a face-to-face discussion, put it in writing with as much detail as you are comfortable providing to your children. You can frame the discussion in general terms and ask for their input.
    3. Email your children your estate plan summary. Your estate planning attorney will usually provide you with a summary of your estate plan that doesn’t disclose actual dollar amounts. Ask your estate planning attorney to copy your children on an email with the summary and ask for their input.
    4. For complex estates, consider a mediator. If you have a complicated estate that may include valuable collections or a family business, consider engaging the services of a professional mediator who can meet with you and your children separately to identify any potential issues and then meet with you together to iron out those issues.
    5. Use equal treatment. If possible, leave your children an equal inheritance outright; most family fights result from children being treated unequally.
    6. If you establish a trust for children, name each child as a co-trustee of their own trust at a certain age. Choose a reasonable age for when you feel a child will be able to participate in managing their own trust so they can learn about handling an inheritance with the help of the main trustee.
    7. Consider staggered distributions from a trust. To help a child learn how to manage a substantial inheritance, estate planning experts often advise staggering distributions over a period of time (i.e., age 25, 30, etc.).
    8. Provide children with option to remove or replace main trustee. Similar to arranged marriages, you never know if children and trustees will make a go of the relationship. Give children limited power to remove and replace a trustee with another qualified trustee.
    9. Allow children to name their own co-trustee. If your children are competent adults, give them the power to name the independent co-trustee of their trust.
    10. Include mediation instructions in your estate plan. Your estate planning attorney can add mediation language so that if a dispute arises, your children will not be tied up in emotionally and financially draining litigation.

    The best way to ensure your estate plan doesn’t lead to a family feud is to meet with your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys at the Meier Law firm for an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones.

    Hollywood Legend Lauren Bacall Leaves Large Estate and Two Potentially Large Headaches for Heirs

    Legendary Hollywood actress Lauren Bacall died on August 12, 2014, leaving behind an estate estimated at $26.6 million and three children who face a couple of potentially serious problems that could have been avoided through effective estate planning. Home estate

    Bacall, who was married to Humphrey Bogart and Sam Robards, passed away in her New York City apartment, which at a $10 million valuation constitutes a sizeable part of her estate.  Bacall used a will as the governing document of her estate plan instead of a revocable living trust, so the division of her estate is public record.

    Her will was made public a mere 10 days following her death because her children plan to auction off her artwork this fall.  As a resident of New York, Bacall’s estate will be subject to both state and federal estate taxes.  A trust left to her by Bogart will also be subject to tax based on its valuation.

    Unfortunately, her estate only included $100,000 in liquid assets at the time of her death, so her heirs face a potentially serious liquidity problem when it comes to paying these taxes. This is probably the reason behind the rush to auction her artwork. Her family has only nine months from the date of her death to pay estate taxes.

    Although Bacall directed in her will that her apartment be sold, there is no guarantee that it could sell in time to pay the estate taxes. Life insurance is one of the most common ways to ensure there is sufficient liquidity to pay taxes and other expenses.

    Besides the financial assets, Bacall left her children the right to her likeness and other intellectual property associated with her illustrious career.  (She did request that her children not sell her personal effects, letters and memorabilia in her will.) This could be of significant value in future years, and the IRS could come after the heirs for taxes based on that value.

    There could also be issues that arise regarding the management of this intellectual property in the coming years, which could lead to litigation as it has in the cases of other Hollywood greats, like Michael Jackson. To help avoid this, the family could establish a trust or family entity to manage these assets and make decisions on how they will be used in the future.

    One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation. Call your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

    5 Things We Should Learn From Our Parents About Retirement

    When we talk about retirement, most of us are still thinking about our parents’ retirement and how they did – or did not – plan properly for it.  It’s no big stretch to think that our retirement will differ significantly from that of our parents, but there are still lessons to be learned from them in preparing:retirement

    1.  Seek out a pension plan.  If you are considering a career change or job move, look for companies that offer traditional pension plans.  Having a pension can make an incredible difference in retirement security.

    2.  If you don’t have a pension plan, compensate.  Start investing now in a 401(k), an IRA or other defined contribution plan early and keep investing in it throughout your working life.  Figure out what you could have made if you had a pension plan, and contribute that amount to your own plan.

    3.  Save for a long life.  None of us lives forever, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t save as if you would live forever.  Running out of money in your 80s or 90s should you live that long is a frightening prospect; medical advances are extending life spans and you need to save for a long life.

    4.  Plan for health care expenses.  It is estimated that most Americans will spend at least $240,000 on health care in retirement, and you will either need to save that amount or have a health coverage plan in place to cover your retirement medical costs.

    5.  Start early and stay the course.  As soon as you start working, aim to save at least 10 percent of your income every year – 15 percent is even better if doable.  And keep saving throughout your working years.  As your salary increases, try to set aside even more so the comfortable retirement you envision can become a reality.

    If you’d like to learn more about retirement planning strategies for your family, call our office today at 949.718.0420 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session.

    The Last Important Gift to Give Your Family

    As hard as it is for all of us to “plan” for our deaths, doing so is one of the best things you can do for your family.  Adding to their grief and pain by giving them no clue as to where to find your personal and business paperwork should not be a memory you leave behind.Family washing dog

    Gather the following information in a folder and let your family know where they can find it in case you die unexpectedly or have a health crisis:

    Advisors – Provide the name and contact information of any financial advisors, including attorneys, estate planners, CPAs, accountants, etc.

    Bank Accounts and Safety Deposit Boxes  – Bank name and account numbers for each bank where you have an account.  Include PIN numbers for online banking.  If you have a personal banker, include his or her name as well, with contact information.  If you have a safety deposit box, record the name of the bank, the box number as well as contents of the box and location of the key.

    Investment And Retirement Accounts – For investment accounts, provide the name of the brokerage, your personal broker, the location of your statement file, account and PIN numbers.  For retirement accounts, provide contact information for plan administrators as well as account and PIN numbers.

    Insurance  – For all your policies – health, home, car, life, long-term care – provide the name and contact information for the agents as well as account numbers.

    Health care – For your health care providers, give contact information for physicians, Medicare information and any other gap coverage you may have.

    House – If you still have a mortgage on your home, provide information on your lender and payment due dates.  Also provide the location of deeds and property titles.  Include contact information for any home service providers – cleaning help, lawn care, etc.

    Credit Cards – Make a photocopy of both sides of each credit card and provide balance and payment information.

    Vehicles – Provide information on where titles and registration information are kept. Make a photocopy of your driver’s license as well.

    Personal – Include a list of your friends and neighbors with email and phone contact information as well as all your email account log-ins and passwords.

    This last bit of planning on your part will go a long way toward helping your family cope in the immediate aftermath of your death or incapacitation.

    One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of your wealth to the next generation.  Call your Newport Beach estate planning attorneys today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

    Robin Williams: A Lesson in Deeds, Not Words + One Error in Planning

    One of the most eloquent responses to Robin Williams’ death came from his best friend Billy Crystal, who posted on Twitter simply:  “No words.”

    When someone close to us dies — especially in a sudden and tragic way — the grief is so deep that we truly don’t have any words to describe it.  And while Robin Williams may have lost the battle to take care of himself, it appears that he did take care of his family through a number of sophisticated estate planning strategies that will at least spare them the pain and cost of a public probate court proceeding.

    According to a Forbes article following Williams’ death, Williams had significant real estate holdings, including a 653-acre Napa Valley estate and a waterfront home in Tiburon, California.  The Napa Valley estate has been for sale since April with a price tag of $29.9 million; the Tiburon home has been valued at $6 million. According to public records, the equity in the properties totals approximately $25 million, depending on the final sale price of the Napa estate.

    Both properties are held in the name of a real estate holding trust, which can remove the value of the properties from Williams’ estate and result in significant estate tax savings for his family.

    Williams also set up a trust for his three children that splits the fund into equal distributions for each child once they reach the ages of 21, 25 and 30.  This trust was established during his 2009 divorce from his second wife.

    This is the one place we see Williams could have done better.  Leaving assets to children outright when they reach specific ages is a common strategy of estate planning attorneys, but isn’t the best strategy.  Instead, Williams could have left the distributions in lifetime asset protection trusts that his children could have controlled as co-trustees or trustees, but would have been protected from lawsuits, divorce, bankruptcy or any other type of creditor and future estate taxes for generations.

    What has not been determined is whether Williams had a life insurance policy.  If the policy was older than two years or so, it should pay out.  Newer policies would probably be void since the cause of death was suicide.

    Of course, the most valuable part of Williams’ estate is likely to be the ongoing royalties for his roles in movies and television as well as his comedy material.  It is unclear whether the estate will be responsible for managing these or if Williams established a trust or corporate entity for this purpose.

    While most of us do not have the wealth that Robin Williams enjoyed during his lifetime, we can all protect what we do have and ensure it passes to our loved ones using estate planning devices like a revocable living trust.  A trust allows our assets to pass outside probate so our families will not have to endure a court proceeding or have assets frozen during the probate process.  This can be a lifeline for grieving families in trying times.

    One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation.  Call your Newport Beach Estate Planning attorneys today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

    “Death Puts” May Secure Income and Estate Value

    Are you concerned about the return on your investments or the return of those investments en route to your heirs? If yes, then you might consider an “estate put.”

    When it comes to later-in-life investments, yield and time can be unfortunate obstacles. In order to secure the highest yield, you must make long-term investments. Unfortunately, when making such long-term investments, fearing they’ll survive you and fall apart without your guidance is common.

    Fortunately, a recent SmartMoney article featured the “death put,” or “estate-feature put,” as known in more dignified circles.

    The article, titled “Yield-Hungry Retirees Turn to 'Death Puts,’” describes how the put is just a built-in device that allows heirs to redeem the investment at face value and recoup all that went into the original investment. You can find it on many investment vehicles, even CDs purchased through brokers. Sound attractive? There’s more.

    A “death put” can guarantee an investor that an investment won’t eventually turn south or clutter up their estate for their survivors, but it will still secure a decent yield (in a world of low yields) today.

    In substance and in form, “death puts” are an add-on and, although comparable to a form of insurance, this means they are subject to the manner in which your broker or investment company writes them. Translation: the devil is in the fine print.

    For more on “death puts,” investment ideas, and some of the numbers involved, read the original article. Regardless, this subject matter is another reminder for you to carefully consider (and even reconsider) your investments in the context of your present income needs and future wealth transfer to your heirs.

    Like any strategy, a “death put” should only be put in play after thoughtful advice and counsel from your team of trusted professional advisors.

    Contact Meier Law Firm today to plan for your loved ones.

    Reference: SmartMoney (May 1, 2012) “Yield-Hungry Retirees Turn to 'Death Puts




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