Estate Planning Fundamentals - What Every Family Should Know

Clients often ask us about the estate planning tools we use and what each of them can accomplish. Here is a list of the most commonly used tools and brief descriptions of their purpose.

Last Will and Testament

This allows you to determine "who gets what" when you pass away. It also allows you to name guardians for your minor children.

Durable Powers of Attorney

These allow you to name people of your own choosing to make decisions for you in the event of incapacity. A power of attorney for healthcare lets you designate a person you trust to make decisions about your medical care, while a power of attorney for finances lets you name the person you want to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf.

Advance Directives

These allow you to choose, in advance, the type of medical and personal care you would want in the event that you cannot make or communicate your desires on your own. In addition, a HIPAA Authorization ensures your loved ones and decision makers can gain access to medical information about your condition when they need it.


There are many types of trusts, capable of helping you accomplish a variety of goals. However, when most people think about trusts, a revocable living trust is the one they have in mind.

A revocable living trust allows you to maintain complete control over your assets while you are alive and after you have passed away. You don’t have to transfer your assets to the trust all at once, you can do so over time and even add to the trust as you acquire new assets.

Other benefits of a revocable living trust include:

  • Avoiding probate. The probate process is time-consuming, needlessly expensive and exposes your assets and estate to public scrutiny
  • It can be changed over time, to compensate for changes in your financial and family situation
  • Basic wills can lead to disagreements among family members. A revocable living trust can help eliminate challenges to the will and ensure beneficiaries receive what you have intended for them
  • It can allow for separation of assets. This is often useful for married couples
  • It allows for ongoing financial management. As your wealth accumulates, so too will assets in the trust

Contact us today to discuss additional estate planning tools and strategies that can help you achieve your particular goals.

Family Feuds - When Heirs Fight Over Assets With Sentimental Value

When we think about heirs fighting over assets, it is the big ticket items that typically come to mind, such as the family home, investments, bank accounts and the like. However, according to a recent article in the New York Times, it is often items of sentimental value - a mother's necklace, for example, or a father's watch - that cause the most contention. This is particularly true in the case of blended families. Worse, battles over sentimental assets often lead to hard feelings that can last for years or even permanently sever relationships between family members.

How can you prevent your heirs from fighting over items with sentimental value? Many people believe that a statement in a will or trust that basically says 'tangible personal property should be divided as my heirs see fit' will solve the problem. However, this can lead to a host of potential conflicts. A better approach is to put specific items that you believe are of interest to certain family members in writing, and then discussing your decisions in advance with your family. In this way, many emotionally charged disputes can be avoided.

What if you are convinced that a former spouse, one of your children, or the spouse of one of your children will cause trouble no matter you specify in your will? In this case, you might want to consider a no contest clause. In essence, this clause makes the risk of challenging your will outweigh the potential benefit of doing so. A no contest clause generally stipulates that if a beneficiary contests the will’s provisions or its validity, his or interest in the will is forfeited. It is important to note, however, that you have to leave the heir in question enough of an inheritance to motivate him or her not to challenge the will.

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An Introduction To Special Needs Trusts

For many families with a special needs child, a special needs trust is one of the most important components of the family's overall estate plan. A properly designed and implemented special needs trust can provide a number of important benefits.

Maximize quality of life while protecting eligibility for government assistance.

A special needs trust allows you to provide funds that can help improve the quality of life for your special needs loved one without jeopardizing eligibility for necessary government assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Funds in the trust can be used for all of the following and more:

  • Medical procedures or therapies not available through government assistance
  • Supplemental nursing home care and private companion services
  • Travel expenses
  • Entertainment expenses such as movies, concerts or electronic equipment
  • Fees for guardians and attorneys
  • Other expenses, services or products not provided by a government assistance program

Lower costs for healthcare services.

Medical providers who have contracts with the state to provide Medicaid services generally deliver those services for much less than beneficiaries paying privately. In situations where the special needs trust must reimburse the state for services provided over the beneficiary's lifetime (the payback provision), reimbursement will be for this lower cost and avoid any penalties or interest.

Avoid the stress, expense and frustration of guardianship.

A properly designed special needs trust can avoid the need for a guardianship proceeding over property issues because trusts are recognized as a less restrictive means to guardianship. This in turn can protect the beneficiary from having to pay for the ongoing costs and formalities of maintaining a guardianship.

For more information about special needs trusts and how we can help you choose the one that is right for your special needs loved one, contact us for a personal consultation.