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Southern California Estate Planning, Probate, Trust & Litigation Law Blog

Friday, October 13, 2017

Family Foundations: What, Why, and How

Families with significant net worth who have a tradition of philanthropy often consider establishing a charitable foundation as part of their estate plans.   While there are a number of advantages to using family foundations as a philanthropic vehicle, families need to seek guidance from estate planning and tax professionals to ensure it is the best option for achieving their objectives.

According to The Foundation Center, there are over 35,000 family foundations in the US, responsible for more than $20 billion in gifts per year.   While some foundations have tens of millions in assets, more than half report holdings totaling less than $1 million.  

Advantages
Minimizing various tax burdens is one benefit of creating a family foundation.  However, if tax issues are your primary concern, then a different asset management and distribution vehicle will probably better suit your needs.  While it is true that family foundations offer certain tax advantages—both in terms of current income tax obligations and future estate tax burdens—family foundations are also under many legal and regulatory obligations.  These ongoing obligations mean that your family should choose to build a family foundation only if ongoing philanthropic giving is an enduring family goal.


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Friday, October 6, 2017

How to Keep Your Affluent Children From Turning Into … Well, … Brats

Congratulations are in order—you have accumulated enough wealth to be concerned about eventually passing it along to your children and grandchildren in a manner that will encourage them to lead positive and productive lives.  Like many, your objective is to allow your children to enjoy the rewards of wealth without becoming irresponsible, overindulgent or feeling entitled to anything money can buy.

When it comes to sharing one’s wealth with adult children, there are some general principles that may help you guide your children as they shape their values.  Two quotes about sharing wealth with children are an excellent starting point:

I wanted my children to have “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” – Warren Buffett


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Friday, September 22, 2017

Is a copy of a will sufficient?

Many people keep their important documents at home where they are easily accessible. It’s not at all uncommon to find people with a filing cabinet or even a shoe box containing passports, account statements, deeds, tax returns, birth certificates and social security cards. Wills are often added to these files once the estate planning process is completed. In choosing to store your important estate planning documents at home, however, you risk having the originals lost or destroyed in the case of fire, flooding or theft. So what happens if the original version of your will is lost or ruined?


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Friday, September 15, 2017

Can I Get In Trouble With the IRS for Trying to Reduce the Amount of Estate Tax That I Owe?

You’ve likely heard that one of the many benefits of estate planning is reducing the amount of federal, and state, taxes owed upon your passing. While it may seem like estate tax planning must run afoul of IRS rules, with the proper strategies, this is far from the case.

It is very common for an individual to take steps to try to reduce the amount of federal estate taxes that his or her "estate" will be responsible for after the person's death. As you may know, you may pass an unlimited amount of assets to your spouse without incurring any federal estate taxes. In 2015, you may pass $5.43 million to non-spouse beneficiaries without incurring federal estate tax and if your spouse died before you, and if you have taken certain steps to add your spouse's $5.43 million exemption to your own, you may have $10.86 million that you can pass tax free to non-spouse beneficiaries.


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Friday, September 1, 2017

Life Insurance and Medicaid Planning

Many people purchase a life insurance policy as a way to ensure that their dependents are protected upon their passing. Generally speaking, there are two basic types of life insurance policies: term life and whole life insurance. With a term policy, the holder pays a monthly, or yearly, premium for the policy which will pay out a death benefit to the beneficiaries upon the holder’s death so long as the policy was in effect. A whole life policy is similar to a term, but also has an investment component which builds cash value over time. This cash value can benefit either the policy holder during his or her lifetime or the beneficiaries.


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Friday, August 25, 2017

A Primer on Advance Medical Directives

While the main objective of estate planning is to help individuals protect their assets and provide for  loved ones, there are other important considerations, such as planning for incapacity. In short, it is crucial  to plan for the type of medical care people wish to receive if a serious accident or illness makes them unable to make or communicate these decisions. By putting in place advance medical directives, such as a durable power of attorney for healthcare and a living will, it is possible to plan for these unexpected events.

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A durable power of attorney for healthcare is commonly referred to as a healthcare proxy. This estate planning tool enables individuals to designate a trusted family member or friend to make medical care decisions in the event of incapacity. This person essentially acts as an agent, and is responsible for working with doctors and other medical professionals to ensure they provide the type of medical care the incapacitated individual prefers. If a healthcare proxy is not in place, it will be necessary for loved ones to ask the court to appoint someone make these decisions. In the end, this advance medical directive protects individuals in the event of an emergency and relieves others of the burden of going to court.

Living Will


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What is Settlement Planning?

Settlement planning is a unique and expanding area of law that is designed to help individuals preserve benefits that have been received from a personal injury settlement, inheritance or judgment. The practice encompasses an array of legal services such as special needs planning, estate planning and financial planning. The objective is to assist clients with resolving claims and to create a structure to properly manage the funds.

Settlement planning is particularly designed for minors, individuals with disabilities, adults who lack capacity and individuals who are receiving public benefits. Without careful planning, those who receive a large settlement or other proceeds may have difficulty managing these funds. In addition, individuals who receive benefits may lose their eligibility for vital government aid.  


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Thursday, August 3, 2017

What are Letters Testamentary?

An individual who has been named as a personal representative or executor in a will has a number of important duties. These include gathering the deceased person's property and transferring it to the beneficiaries through a court-supervised process known as probate. In order to initiate this proceeding, the executor must first obtain what are referred to as letters testamentary. This document gives the executor the legal authority to administer the deceased person's estate.

While the process varies from state to state, the executor must petition the probate court in the county in which the decedent lived. This typically requires submitting the death certificate and completing a short application. The application includes a sworn statement that the person has been named as the executor in the will, as well as an estimate of the estate's property and debts.


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Monday, July 24, 2017

How to Leave Gifts to Step-Children

Today, blended families have become increasingly common, and many individuals have step-children, that is, children of a spouse or partner. In situations where step-children have not been legally adopted, however, they do not have a legal right to an inheritance from a step-parent. For those who wish to leave step-children part of their estate , it is necessary to include them in an estate plan.

The easiest way to leave gifts to step-children is to name them in a will. As with any other gift, they can be given a percentage of the estate, or specific gifts. If there are other children involved, it is important to avoid confusion by naming each child and step-child by using their individual names, rather than terms such as "descendants," "heirs," or "children."

There are also a number of estate planning tools that can be utilized to include step-children in an inheritance. If the objective is to avoid probate, for example, a revocable living trust can be established in which a step-child is named as a beneficiary. Moreover, it may be necessary to provide for a disabled step-child who is eligible for public benefits by establishing a special needs trust. Lastly, a step-child can also be named as a beneficiary in a life insurance policy or a pay-on-death financial account.

While there is no legal obligation to leave step-children an inheritance, it may be the best choice for those who have a close relationship, or played a significant role, in raising them. However, this will reduce the amount of assets available to other children and beneficiaries. Because blended family relationships are complex and subject to emotional challenges, it is important to explain these decisions with all family members.

By engaging in an open and honest dialogue, you can minimize the potential for strife and the possibility of a will contest. In particular, it is important to clarify why you gave each recipient a gift, the selection of your executor, and your thoughts about the family.  Lastly, you are well advised to engage the services of an estate planning attorney who can help ensure your wishes regarding step-children are carried out.


Monday, July 17, 2017

How a Prenuptial Agreement Can Protect Your Estate

There are many circumstances that can impact an estate plan, not the least of which is divorce. While ending a marriage is complicated, it is not only crucial to arrive at a fair and equitable distribution of the marital assets, but to preserve your estate as well.

While the laws vary from state to state, it is important to understand the difference between separate and marital property. Generally, separate property includes any property owned by either spouse before the marriage, as well as gifts or inheritances received by either party prior to or after the marriage.

Marital property, on the other hand, is any property that is acquired during the marriage such as houses, cars, retirement plans, 401(k)s, IRAs, life insurance, investments and closely held business, regardless of who owns or holds title to the property.

One way to protect an estate in the event of a divorce is to put in place a prenuptial agreement. This legal document specifies each party's property ownership and clarifies their respective property rights should they end the marriage. A prenuptial agreement can reduce the conflict that is normally associated with divorce, avoid court intervention regarding questions of property division and also serve as an effective estate planning tool.

In short, a well designed agreement will distinguish separate property from marital property so that those assets are not misclassified if one of the spouses dies. Moreover, a prenuptial agreement is beneficial to those who are entering into second marriages because it will help to preserve the rights of children from prior relationships. In addition, for those who marry later in life and acquire significant assets, a prenuptial agreement can protect the estate from claims by former spouses.

In the end, a prenuptial agreement can enable each spouse to protect their assets and provide for their loved ones in the event of divorce or death. If you are considering marriage, it is essential to put a comprehensive estate place that includes a prenuptial agreement.

 


Monday, July 10, 2017

The Difference Between Equal and Equitable Inheritances

When it comes to estate planning, many individuals believe that dividing assets equally among adult children is the best choice. However, there are situations in which leaving each child the same amount might not be practical. For this reason, it is important to know the difference between an equal inheritance and an equitable inheritance, in which each child receives a fair share based on his or her circumstances.

What is an equal inheritance?

In this situation, each child gets the same amount of the remaining estate after both parents have died.

This option works well when the needs of each child are the same, or the parents provided similar support to each child in the past. Moreover, each child must be mentally or emotionally capable and financially responsible.

It is important to note that cases in which an estate includes real property and other tangible assets, it may be necessary to determine the differences in value of these assets in order to leave each child an appropriate amount. Lastly, leaving an equal inheritance may be the best way to avoid the emotional and financial costs of disputes.

What is an equitable inheritance?

In some cases, leaving each child and equal inheritance may not be the right thing to do. For example, it may be wise to reward a child who has taken on the role of caregiver for an aging parent or to compensate him or her for lost time and wages. There are also circumstances in which children may have been given different amounts of money while the parents were alive either for a wedding, educational expenses or a down payment on a home.

Lastly, for those who have a disabled child who receives public benefits, it may be necessary to provide for living expenses and medical needs in a special needs trust. In all of these situations, an equitable distribution of the estate assets is the best option.

The Bottom Line

In the end, determinations about the distribution of an estate to surviving children should be made in a way that will preserve family harmony. For this reason, it is important to discuss your decisions with your children and engage the services of an experienced estate planning attorney.




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Law Offices of Mary P. Kulvinskas located in Westlake Village, CA serves clients in southern CA including Agoura, Calabasas, Camarillo, Los Angeles, Malibu, Oxnard, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, San Fernando Valley, and Ventura.



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