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    Category Archives: Estate Plan

    Why Your Old Trust May Lock Your Family Into Nightmare Scenario!

    Last week, I was talking with a couple at my son’s baseball game, when the wife mentioned that they had set up their revocable living trust up back in worried couple2005. The couple said they were concerned it needed to be updated.

    Aside from the major life changes they’d had since then, including having more children, and moving out of state, there was a larger red flag that went up for me when I heard the date of the trust.

    Basically, for many years, including 2005, the common structure for trusts for married couples was called the A/B Trust. This meant that upon the death of the first spouse, the trust was divided into two sub-trusts: Trust A for the surviving spouse, and Trust B for the late spouse.

    The main reason for this mandatory split structure was to mitigate estate taxes, a likely problem for couples back then because the amount of money the government would allow you to pass at a death without triggering estate tax was significantly less than it is today. Due to changes in law and changes in the tax exemption, the need for the A/B Trust as a tax avoidance strategy became less necessary.

    The other problem is that for the assets and real property put in Trust B, the family will not receive a “step-up” in basis for capital gains tax purposes upon the death of the surviving spouse. This means the beneficiaries of a Trust B can be stuck with significant capital gains tax on assets or real property if there was significant appreciation between the death of the first spouse and the death of the surviving spouse.

    There are however some benefits of having an A/B Trust, such as asset protection for the late spouse’s assets and real property in Trust B, and a guarantee those assets and real property will only pass upon the surviving spouse’s death to the beneficiaries the couple had chosen together.

    New laws and planning techniques such as the Clayton Election Trust, now afford couples many benefits of the A/B Trust without the negative tax consequences, or at least provides them a choice between realizing tax advantages versus asset protection depending on what’s right at the time. Talk to your Newport Beach Family Estate Planning Lawyers about replacing your old A/B trust with a Clayton or Disclaimer trust today. It literally may save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run!

    Meier Law Firm is now offering a free trust review of any trust as long as you contact our office by May 1, 2017 to schedule your appointment.   Be sure to mention this article to receive the free review.  Call (949) 718-0420.

    How One Person’s Estate Plan Impacted the Entire United States

    When you set up your will or trust, you probably remember being asked who you want to leave your money to when you pass away. You were 200px-Johns-James_Smithson-1816also likely asked where you would want the money to go if those people were no longer living.

    A man named James Smithson had to consider this question when he wrote his Last Will and Testament in 1826 in London. He wrote in his Will that his estate would go upon his death to his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, and then to Henry’s heirs. However, Smithson included a contingency clause that stated that if Henry were to pass away without any heirs, then the money would then go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge ….”

    Eventually Smithson passed away, and his estate went to his nephew Henry as directed in Smithson’s Will. However, when Henry passed away, he did not have any heirs, which meant that the estate then passed to the United States to establish the Smithsonian Institution.  Located in our Nation’s Capitol, today the Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and nine research facilities. And to think, it all came about because of a contingency clause in one man’s estate plan.

    If you have a special cause or passion, talk with your Newport Beach estate planning attorneys to learn more about how you can include these causes in your estate plan. You never know just how much of an impact one gift can make. Call (949) 718-0420 to schedule a planning session with a Meier Law Firm attorney today to learn more about how you can make a difference.

    5 Must Do’s Before 2016 Ends

    Most of us are so focused this holiday season on what gifts to buy the kids, or where we’ll be spending Christmas Eve, that the more importanthappy-single-person things that benefit us most end up on the back-burner.  It’s good to take time this holiday season to focus on the fun, but not at the expense of tying up loose ends that matter most in the long-run.

    Here are 5 Must Do’s for any family before the year comes to an end.

    1. Review Your Finances. For most of us during Christmas, we are so busy swiping our card and checking our bank account balances that we forget to be checking our investment accounts, health saving accounts, retirement accounts, and emergency funds.  Take time to meet for an hour with your financial advisor and your accountant to review your financial performance this year and discuss strategies for starting 2017 off right.
    2. Update Your Beneficiaries. Did you get married this year or have a new child?  Did a relationship end?  Did you set up a family trust?  Every person should take time to review who their beneficiaries are on their current policies and make sure it reflects their current wishes. You should also double check to make sure all of your banking and investment accounts, and your home, are properly titled in the name of your trust (especially if you refinanced this year).
    3. End Whatever Is Not Working For You. Take time to look at where you have been spending your time, who you are spending it with, what services you are using, where you are spending your money, and what is and is not working for you. There is no need to drag into 2017 what did not work for you in 2016. (Family members excluded course!!)
    4. Prioritize Your Health. The Christmas season is full of holiday cheer, and full of holiday carbs. The best quote I heard was from a personal trainer who asked a crowd in December ‘Do you want to be a Fat Santa or a Buff Elf’?  His point was, don’t wait until the new year to get healthy and fit.  One of the best ways we can combat the stress and foods of the holidays is to take a walk, do some yoga, or lift some weights. When we feel better physically, we feel better mentally.
    5. Let it Go. Most of us were offended or wronged by someone this year. It may even be a family member we now have to sit across from at the Christmas Dinner table. Whatever it was or whoever it was, no matter how bad it hurt, give yourself the best gift this holiday season and let it go. Enjoy the holiday season knowing that you may have been wronged, but you are giving yourself a free pass to feel at peace.

    One of our roles as your trusted Newport Beach family trust attorney, is to not only help you set up and update your estate plan, but to make sure you have all of the support and resources you need to be the best you this Holiday Season. We are happy to refer you to the best financial advisors, accountants, therapists, spiritual advisors, personal trainers, and life coaches—whoever you need to end this year with the best possible outcome.  Call your Newport Beach Family Trust Attorneys today at (949) 718-0420 for guidance and referrals, and to make sure your family trust reflects your current wishes and circumstances.

    Estate Planning Implications When Young Adult Child Lives At Home

    You probably heard that a recent Pew Research Center analysis of census data shows that the most common living arrangement for adults ages 18-34 (aka millennials) is living at home with their parents. This is now a more common arrangement than a young adult living with a spouse or roommate or alone.

    And while there is a lot of discussion about how this new normal is affecting our economy, housing market, and marriage rates, did you know this also significantly impacts the family estate plan?

    Most traditional estate plans assume that young adult children live independently of the parents and outside of the family home.

    If you have a young adult child living at home, here are some unique questions you need to talk about with your family trust attorney so your family trust can best protect you, your adult child who lives at home, and your other family members:

    1. What happens when I pass away and my young adult child is still living at home? Do they have to be given notice to move out?  Do they have a right to remain there?
    2. Should my young adult child who lives at home receive the same inheritance as my other children who live outside the home?
    3. Should my young adult child who lives at home have a right of first refusal to purchase the family home after I pass away?
    4. How can I make medical and financial decisions for my young adult child who lives at home if they became seriously injured or passed away?
    5. Do I need a contractual arrangement with my young adult child who lives at home that addresses rent, rights, eviction, etc. similar to what I would have with a tenant?

    If you have a young adult child living at home, talk with your Newport Beach Family Trust and Estates Law Firm about how your family trust can appropriately reflect your family dynamic and living situation, and best protect the entire family.  Call Bonnie Johnson at (949) 718-0420 to schedule a Planning Session with a Meier Law Firm attorney who can show you your options and help you establish or update your plan.

    5 Estate Planning Strategies for Child-Free Couples

    I got a call recently from my good friend, Robyn D’Angelo.  She’s a couples therapist and relationship coach known as the Happy Couple Expert.

    Robyn was calling to invite me to speak, along with 21+ experts from different fields, at an upcoming online GLOBAL Summit for DINKS– which refers to couples who have Double Income No Kids.

    My initial response was “Robyn, you do know that I have a million kids and that I’m known in my industry for helping families with young children?”  But, as she pointed out, our estate planning strategies are useful to every adult who wants to take control of their future, not just parents.

    I want to share with you here, the top 5 estate planning strategies for all of the DINKS you know out there, that I’ll be talking about at the GLOBAL summit that starts April 11th.  Details are in our current newsletter under Upcoming Events and at

    By the way, if you are a DINK couple by choice or chance, or know a fabulous DINK couple who wants to create an epic relationship with their partner, you can click here to learn more about the GLOBAL summit and register.

    Here are the top 5 estate planning strategies child-free couples should consider:

    1. Planning for future kids. Many couples foresee kids in their future, and many couples do not.  If you will probably have kids in the next three years, your estate plan should address this scenario.  I use the word “probably” vs. “possibly” because really a good estate plan addresses what we know today, and what will probably happen in the future. If having kids is only a remote possibility or not in the cards at all, you should not address having children in your current plan. You can always change your plan down the road if something changes.
    2. Choosing Your Beneficiaries. Child-free couples should set up an estate plan to address who they want to benefit from them if they pass away. If they do not, the law says where their money will go and often times this does not reflect who the couple would have chosen.  Are you involved in a charity?  Do you have nieces and nephews you love?  None of these people or groups, despite being incredibly import to you, would be your beneficiaries under California’s default laws.  You need to take control and choose who you want through your own private planning.
    3. Medical Access. Our state and federal privacy laws preclude your loved ones from getting information on you if you were in a hospital and could not communicate. It’s essential that you complete medical directives that not only state your medical wishes, but also firmly state what important people in your life you would like to authorize doctors to speak with in an emergency.
    4. Passing Separate Property. It’s not unusual for child-free couples to keep their assets, like their bank accounts or investment accounts, separate from their partners. This can cause a huge problem if one spouse passes away, and has to then go through a long and expensive court process known as probate just to get their late spouses assets. Estate Planning can allow you to continue to hold your assets separately if you choose, but automatically pass to your surviving spouse if you pass away through a trust.
    5. Asset Protection. Many child-free couples would want their spouse to benefit from them if they passed away, but would not necessarily want the surviving spouse to give the late spouse’s money away to a new spouse. Instead they may want it to go back to their own family or a favorite charity.  Estate planning allows child-free couples to place restrictions and protections on the money that is passed after one’s death while still supporting the surviving spouse during their lifetime.

    If you want to learn more about how to properly set up an estate plan that ensures all of your wishes would be carried out the way you want, call your Newport Beach estate planning law firm today.  Mention this article and receive a free Planning Session when you schedule by April 29, 2016. Call Bonnie Johnson at (949) 718-0420.

    Also, don’t forget to register by clicking here for the free online GLOBAL summit designed to help child-free couples create an epic relationship! Invite your child-free family members and friends today!

    Estate Planning For Single People

    happy-single-personIf you are single, it’s critical that you establish an estate plan!

    Chances are you hold most of your assets in your own name, and without a joint account owner. This means that without creating your own estate plan, you’ll be leaving it to the courts to sort out everything from where your assets should go, who should make your medical decisions, and who should raise your children if they are under eighteen.

    Make sure your estate plan includes these 5 key components:

    1. A Revocable Living Trust. The Revocable Living Trust allows you to direct where you want your assets to go upon your death. Unlike a Will that would be subject to a long, expensive and public court process known as probate, a Revocable Living Trust is a private document that is administered by your attorney upon your passing. It allows you to also place controls on the money you leave behind, such as not allowing your children to control the money until they attain a certain age.
    2. Financial Durable Power of Attorney. The Financial Durable Power of Attorney allows another adult you trust to make all financial decisions on your behalf if you were incapacitated. Without this document, your loved ones who would have to go through a burdensome court process to get the authority to act on your behalf.
    3. Medical Directives. Your Medical Directives will allow your loved ones to talk to your doctors if you were seriously injured. They also address your end of life wishes, and designate someone you trust to make all medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them for yourself.
    4. Guardianship. If your child’s other parent is able to continue to raise your child, guardianship is not necessary. However, it’s imperative that all parents name guardians for their children in case the other parent is not available. Without this key document, a judge would have to decide who should raise your child.
    5. A Trusted Family Attorney. It’s one thing to have a set of legal documents that direct where assets should go and how decision will be made, but it’s another for your loved ones to have someone to turn to in a time of crises, who knows you and your wishes, and can can guide your loved ones during that difficult time. Make sure you only work with an estate planning attorney who can offer you a lifelong relationship.

    Talk with your Newport Beach Estate Planning Law Firm attorney today to learn what you need to protect yourself and to ensure your loved ones would be completely taken care of if anything should happen to you! Call our Client Services Director, Bonnie Johnson at 949.718.0420 Monday through Friday between 9am and 4pm to schedule a planning session to get started.

    Students Aren’t the Only Ones with an Important Assignment This Fall

    Now that the kids are back in school, and families are returning to more structure and routine, there is no time like the present to cross estate planning off of your to-do list. The next time you tell your kids to go and do their homework, you can tell them that you’re even doing yours!

    Below are 5 essential estate planning strategies that your family should implement or update right away.

    Will.  Look around you right now.  Everything you see has to be distributed in the event of your death.  Your Will names the person you want to handle it all and can also indicate who you want to receive it all.  It also names guardians for your minor children. If you don’t have a Will, a Judge decides who is in charge of your affairs and State law provides who receives everything you own.  Take control now by getting your Will in place today.

    Emergency Plan.  If you have minor children at home, you need a comprehensive set of documents to ensure they are taken care of by the people you want, in the way you want, no matter what.  Not just for the long-term, but also in the immediate term if and when something happens to you.  A Kids ICE Plan does just that.  Only estate planning law firms who focus on families with young children have the skills, training, and resources to create a comprehensive Kids ICE Plan for your family, so call us today if you do not have one in place already.

    Advance Medical Directive.  Also known as a health care proxy, durable power of attorney for healthcare or living will, this document provides the legal right for the person of your choice (your representative) to make healthcare decisions for you in case you become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions for yourself.  Plus, it also lets that person know HOW you want decisions to be made if you cannot make them for yourself.  Without an Advance Medical Directive in place, your family could have their hands tied when it comes to ensuring you get the best care possible, in the way you would want.

    Power of Attorney.  In the event you cannot communicate, your Power of Attorney will allow your family to gain access to your financial accounts so they can pay your bills and manage your financial affairs. Without this in place, they’ll face an expensive, long and public court process to take matters into their hands.  Don’t leave your family in that position, handle this today.

    Trust.  If you own any property that would go through the probate process (a home, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, business assets, investment real estate, and other investment assets), you’ll want to make sure to have a Trust set up as soon as possible so your family isn’t stuck dealing with an expensive, unnecessary, long, and totally public Court process in the event of your death.  A revocable living trust puts the people you know, love and trust in control without having to go to Court.

    If you’re ready to do the right thing by your family, call your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys at the Meier Law Firm to schedule a time for an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session. Our Client Services Director Bonnie Johnson would be happy to help you get scheduled or answer any questions you have. Bonnie can be reached at 949.718.0420 Mondays through Fridays between 9am and 4pm. Just mention this article and your Session will be free with no pressure or obligation whatsoever, as long as you reserve your session by September 18, 2015.

    Or, if you’re the ‘do it yourself’ type and like to do your homework ahead of time, call our Client Services Director Bonnie Johnson at 949.718.0420 today and request a free copy of Laura Meier’s book, Good Parents Worry, Great Parents Plan. It has a lot of information you’ll want to know to prepare the best estate plan possible for your family. We’d be happy to send you your free copy with no obligation whatsoever as long as you reserve your copy by September 18, 2015.

    Why You Should Get Your Kids an Estate Plan

    We are fairly certain the last thing your 18-year-old kid is thinking about is an estate plan.  And you are probably not thinking about one for them either, but you should be.  Here’s why:  once your child turns 18, you are no longer entitled to know about their medical records or make decisions about their medical treatment. high school graduation

    Can you imagine your child needing medical treatment in some college town and you are not able to help in any way without a court saying you can?  It can, and does, happen.

    What you need to do is have your adult child fill out a health care proxy with a HIPAA release (HIPAA refers to the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, the law that makes health records private for those over the age of 18).  On the form, your child can designate you as their agent, allowing you to have access to medical records and to make health care decisions for them in case they cannot do so themselves.

    While you’re at it, have your child complete a Durable Power of Attorney as well, which will give you the right to oversee their finances in case of incapacitation.

    Hopefully you will never need to use these three documents, but having these necessary protections in place will give you both peace of mind.

    Call your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys at the Meier Law Firm today to schedule an Achieve Your Dreams Planning Session!

    For Estate Planning, There is No Fix –It-And-Forget-It

    It’s hard to believe that people who spend a lifetime working hard to accumulate wealth spend little or no time planning for what will happen to it after they pass, especially if children are in the picture.  Yet a recent Consumer Reports survey tells us that 86% of people have not reviewed or updated our estate documents in the past five years.

    A lot can happen in five years – your life, the law and your assets will change —  and your estate plan needs to reflect the changes in your life or those of your beneficiaries.  Here’s what needs to be evaluated at least once a year with the help of a Personal Family Lawyer®:

    Title to your assets.  The most important part of your legal planning isn’t necessarily the legal documents your lawyer prepared (though they are important), it’s how your assets are titled.  If your assets are not titled right (and stay that way), your estate plan won’t work and the documents aren’t worth the paper they are written on. This must be reviewed every year.

    Your will and trust(s).  These legal documents determine who gets your assets and who will take care of making sure that it happens the way you want. People marry, divorce and fall out with family members all the time.  Children are born and sometimes, tragically, die.  Property is bought and sold.  In other words, life changes and so should your will and trust, to reflect the changes in your life.

    Your health care directive.  Your health care directive names someone to serve as your agent in case you are unable to make your own health care decisions.  Is the person you originally named still willing and able to serve?  If for some reason they were not able to serve when needed, have you named a back-up?

    Your financial power of attorney.  This is the person who will handle your finances in case you are unable to do so, and there should be a back-up named for this function as well.  If you are over the age of 65 and have a number of different bank and brokerage accounts, it may make sense to consolidate those accounts to make managing your finances easier.

    Your guardian nominations.  As your children grow, the people you named to raise them may not continue to make sense.  And, you absolutely need to have named guardians for the immediate term, so your kids are never taken into protective custody by strangers, and those folks can change frequently as the people in your kids’ lives will likely change regularly.

    If you would like to create or update your estate plan, call your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys at the Meier Law Firm today to schedule an Achiever Your Dreams Planning Session.

    Robin Williams’ Family Fight Over Personal Property Not So Funny

    Robin Williams’ wife Susan has gone to court over personal items she says were taken from the couple’s Tiburon, California, home without her permission. Williams’ children say their father set up a trust that bequeathed the items to them and that his wife of three years is acting against his wishes. Could this have been avoided?  grieving family

    According to a recent article at the Huffington Post, there is a court fight brewing in San Francisco over the disposition of some personal property from the estate of comedian/actor Robin Williams, who committed suicide last year. His wife of three years claims his three children from prior marriages took certain items from the Tiburon residence where she lived with Williams.

    According to the children, these items are part of the inventory of personal property conveyed by certain trusts established for their benefit. Williams’ trust granted his children his memorabilia and awards in the entertainment industry as well as some other specific personal items, according to court documents.

    His widow, Susan Williams, claims that since they lived together in their own house in Tiburon, and there was a separate residence in Napa, it stands to reason he wanted the children to receive items from the Napa residence and she is to receive the property from the Tiburon home.

    Attorneys for the two sides appeared to offer conflicting characterizations of the court case. Susan Williams’ attorney said she is just seeking a clarification from the court; the attorney for the children says she has accused them of stealing items belonging to her.

    The probate court in California will look first at both Williams’ will and the documents that established the trusts for the children. The court will seek to determine if those documents delineate who gets exactly what. If neither document contains either an inventory of each item of personal property with instructions as to who shall receive it or a broader instruction perhaps suggesting “all other property contained at the Tiburon residence or the Napa residence,” then the court will have to engage in a more difficult analysis to determine what Williams’ wishes were when he set up the trusts and executed his will.

    As this contest is occurring in San Francisco and the family lived in the state, California trust and estate law will control the legal issues to be resolved.

    The Robin Williams’ estate underscores the need to specify exactly which personal items you are giving to family members by trust or will so there is no ambiguity once you pass.  It’s this ambiguity that causes family in-fighting and costs excessive amounts of time, money and energy, even (and maybe even especially) when the estate is of small value.

    Especially in a blended family situation, like with Robin Williams family, it’s important to be exceedingly clear about whether children from a prior marriage should receive any money or other assets at the time of your death or if they should wait for all inheritance until the death of your spouse.

    This is one of the situations that is most likely to result in strife and complication after death, and it’s so straightforward and easy to deal with ahead of time.

    The best way to learn about protecting your family is to talk with your Newport Beach Estate Planning Attorneys at the Meier Law Firm about 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.

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