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Happy Thanksgiving Questionnaire

TurkeyIf you’ll see your parents (or your adult children) on Thanksgiving, you might want to leave ‘em a copy under their plate.

Dear ______________ (you fill in the blank),
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we want to let you know that we are thankful in advance that you’ll read this letter. (We know you won’t want to discuss this, but we really need to.) And we’re making it as easy as possible for you to fill out; just check the boxes you like. You can also add in any words you wish.

So:
☐ I don’t have a Will.
☐ I have a Will but I don’t have the faintest idea where it is. Read more

Avoid the Asset Hassle, Courtesy of Uncle Pennybags

Piggy bankBeware the hassle assets. They are called that because if you inherit some, you will jump hoops, go down chutes and climb up ladders to get these assets into your name.

The corollary: if you own hassle assets now, do your spouse and estate recipients an enormous favor, and deal with these assets now, while you can. Prevent the legal zoo. We’ll explain how below.

Let’s contemplate your rich Uncle Pennybags, who has received huge royalties over the years as his picture has appeared since 1936 on millions of Monopoly boards, Community Chest and Chance Cards. (You thought it was Warren Buffett?)

Uncle Richie (as you called him) was a sophisticated investor; no Baltic Avenue for him in the real world.  Instead, he bought into companies which owned mineral rights in Georgia and oil well interests in Texas. He also bought a couple of shares in a company producing a Broadway musical. And yes, he had a part-interest in an assisted living facility on Marvin Gardens.

So when Pennybags died, his estate owned 1.6% of a Georgia partnership trying to sift kaolin out of dirt, 0.875% of a Texas venture owning a semi-dry oil well, and 3% royalties from whenever their musical was performed, whether in local high schools or foreign countries. Read more

Three Reasons You Still Need a Will, Regardless of the Estate Tax

FamilyWe heard so much about the “Fiscal Cliff” a few months back, and after all that talk and all the headlines, for most people, the change in the Estate Tax didn’t really change a thing — you still need a Will. Here’s why.

1. The Estate Tax doesn’t decide who raises your children.
We hear it all the time: “I don’t have any assets so I don’t need a Will.” But you do have children, and the change in the Estate Tax isn’t going to name guardians to take care of them if something happens to you.

When both parents die, the Georgia Probate Court will look to see who the parents named as guardians for their children in their Wills. If there are no Wills, then the Probate Court decides who will raise them.

Even if you aren’t sure about the person you choose, you are going to make a better informed choice than a Judge who never met you, and won’t meet your children, your in-laws, siblings, and parents until the Probate Court hearing where they’ll be fighting it out. Read more

Even You (Yes, You!) Can Create an Endowment

Money with bowYes you can.

We’ve given out the candy on All Hallow’s Eve. We’ve harvested and given thanks. Soon we’ll share good tidings of comfort and joy.

So this is a perfect time to consider a painless way to do something charitable. Actually, two painless ways.

One way is not going to cost you a penny more than what you are spending already.

The other way will cost you next to nothing.

Neither way will change your cash flow during your lifetime. And when you die, you’ll trigger a spectacular donation to the charity of your choice for any purpose you specify. Voilà: your personal endowment.

Here’s how this happens. Read more

Read This Article Before You Create a Will Online

Fine PrintToday’s questions:

  • What good is a “satisfaction guarantee” from an online will company when the problems with the will don’t become clear until you’re dead?
  • Why buy an online will kit from sellers who warn you that the content of their site is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date?

I was recently presented with a will prepared through an online service. The person who downloaded it, filled in the blanks, and signed it would never know the problems created by the online form, as he had passed away.  But now, upon review of the document following his death, the problems with it were becoming clear to his family. Read more

George Clooney, Estate Planning and “The Descendants”

In the new movie, “The Descendants,” George Clooney is an estate attorney, husband, and father.  He’s also struggling with a conflict over land his family has owned for generations. As the trustee, Clooney must deal with his money-hungry relatives’ pressure to sell the valuable, unspoiled  property to developers.

The film has received great reviews, and it’s a wake-up call: family conflicts are easy to prevent, but expensive and time-consuming if you just ignore them.  You can’t wait until the owner is dead, or disabled and can’t communicate.

So enjoy the film. And come discuss your family’s inheritance and control-of-asset issues with us.

The Pet Trust: Protecting Your Animal After You’re Gone

dogThe widowed aunt had written in her Will: “I give $5,000 to [nephew] if he takes care of my cat.”

The nephew put the cat to sleep.  He then demanded the five grand from his aunt’s estate. His reason: “I took care of the cat.”

They ended up in court.  Read more

Deal with Inherited Real Estate Before Another Person Dies

houseIgnoring property to be inherited is a problem which never goes away. It inevitably gets worse. As a model, consider what happened in the family of T.L. Piggy, Sr.

In 1950, T.L. (short for “This Little”) went to market in East Cobb County. He liked some farm acreage and bought it for $30,000.     Read more

Who Gets the Assets if Your Spouse Dies Without a Will? You Might be Surprised.

The financial planner thought he knew everything.  And with that confidence, he downloaded a form will. It wasn’t a bad will, actually. But he made one enormous mistake: he didn’t sign it right.

So when he died, his wife went to an attorney to find out how she would collect everything. She got a shock: she wasn’t going to. The will was useless. Void. Non-existent. Consequently, the law says that she and the child had to split the assets. The scorecard: Child: 50%. Mother 50%. Game, set, match.

Would it matter if it was his child, and not their child? Not a whit. Could they fudge the distribution? Nope.

What if parent and child didn’t get along? Doesn’t matter. They were chained legally to 50% each. They may not have spoken in years . . . but now they sure were going to.

The key: if the once-good will is not good now, or if there’s no will, then the spouse and the children divide the estate assets equally.  Read more

Protecting Your Aging Parents’ Assets

On the magazine cover, the cute but worried dog was staring at a man’s hand.  The hand was holding a gun to the dog’s head. The cover caption: “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

This is not exactly a case of undue influence. Nobody has you in a chokehold, nobody is threatening to lop off your fingers one at a time, saying “Sign this or else!”  That’s what undue influence is usually about.

Aging adults, however, sometimes face the pressures of a different undue influence: being manipulated when they have diminished mental capacity. Who’s doing it? People – often relatives — who seek influence and financial control over the aged adult as well as financial benefit for themselves.   Read more