October is National Estate Planning Month.  Think this only applies to the wealthy?  Think again!  You need Estate Planning if:

  • You have minor children.  Without a plan in place, a stranger will decide who raises your child.
  • You are among the 68% of Americans with a pet. A good Estate Plan will ensure that your furry loved one has a smooth transition.
  • You are among the 60% of Americans who own a home. Without a good Estate Plan, your beneficiaries will be subject to taxes, probate and long term care claims!
  • You have a blended family. A good plan will ensure that my children won’t be at war with my second husband!
  • You have a loved one with special needs. A simple will leaving assets to a disabled beneficiary, can disrupt their eligibility for program benefits.

What is the Biggest Estate Planning Mistake people make?               

AMC- The #1 mistake is to put your house into your kids’ names.   This move will saddle them with capital gains taxes, will subject the home to the kids’ possible divorce and other liability claims and will result in the loss of any senior real property tax exemptions.  In the book, I tell the story of a retired judge who put his home in his daughter’s name.  He trusted her implicitly. Tragically, she died in a car accident- without a will-  Her husband ended up inheriting the home by virtue of state default rules of inheritance.

We hear a lot about Trusts.  Can you break down the difference between a will and a trust?

AMC-  We should all have a nice will.  The goal however, is not to use it, because a will goes to…..PROBATE, this is a public process with significant delays, attorney fees, and is subject to challenges.  A trust, by contrast is private, takes effect immediately and requires no legal help at death.

DIY Estate Planning?  Yes or No? AMC-  Somewhere in between.  Can someone write their own will?  If you are on a gameshow, the answer is, yes.  However, in the real world, I advise against it.  Aretha Franklin was an artistic genius, BUT her DIY will was in court years after her death.  Some documents, however, can be done on your own.  I will tell you which ones!