Avoid these shortcuts in estate planning & save your assets, protect your family, & leave a legacy

We’re all looking to save money and get our to do list done as quickly and easily as possible.  But when it comes to estate planning, quick and cheap shortcuts can end up not only costing you in the long run, but can hurt both your family and your legacy.

For example, if you decide to forego an estate plan for your real property, and instead opt for joint tenancy, then you are at best just delaying the probate process, and at worst exposing your home to complete loss in your lifetime. With joint tenancy, there may not be any need for probate or transfer proceedings at the death of the first spouse (just some simple) paperwork, at the death of the survivor, the property goes into probate, which can take years and cost up to 10% of the gross estate value, which can be in the tens of thousands of dollars even for estates with just a house – even one with substantial debt.  Putting a child on title to the property does not solve this problem, and can lead to your child’s creditors seizing the house, the inability to undo the transfer at a later date when needed, a loss of control over the disposition of the house, more complications in transfer at the survivor’s death, and more.

Another shortcut is either being incomplete or too vague in your estate plan documentation.  If you have a living trust, it must be funded completely.  It does not serve you or anyone else to leave “just that one account” outside the trust since it ‘has so little in it.’  Why leave a small account – or a large one – outside the trust and make it more difficult for your family to transfer it? It’s possible then that the bank will just get your money since it will be too much trouble to transfer the account outside the trust.  In addition, if you have provisions for the distribution of your estate, make sure you have alternate provisions in case your beneficiaries do not outlive you.  For example, if you are leaving everything to your children, make sure you have a provision for who gets your estate if the airplane goes down and you all pass at the same time.

There are a lot of aspects of estate planning that can easily be completed improperly, costing you, your family, and the estate you worked your life to build. Estate planning is not the place to look for a quick or cheap solution, but rather to take the time to ensure that all you’ve worked for is left just the way you want it.

Getting divorced? Don’t divorce your family – or your values

Us family law attorneys have a saying: criminal lawyers see bad people at their best and family law attorneys see good people at their worst. It’s true – divorce can turn the kindest person into a bit of a monster.

Indeed, it’s tough for even the attorneys to keep their distance from such extreme, deep emotion, hurt and anger. The legal system is no help – in fact, it encourages the hostility. The premise of the system itself, a winner and a loser, prolongs and perpetuates the conflict.

What is too often lost in the shuffle are the victims of divorce: the children. They get enmeshed in the arguments and even the court battles, whether explicitly or just because they live with the combatants. Children of divorce struggle mightily – and silently – and their needs should be more front and center in our system.

I came across an article recently, entitled “Ending your marriage should not end your family,” and while it’s five years old, it’s still pertinent today.

There is a better way. You don’t have to fight as hard as you can and spend $100,000 on legal fees. Your personal hurt and anger should not be played out in court. Talk to a therapist and work it out there. Take advantage of alternative dispute resolution like mediation. Take a deep breath and sleep on it for a night – or two or ten – before filing that motion just to get revenge. It will be worth it in the long run to you AND your family.

Do you need a will?

Here is a video I did answering the very common question of “Do I need a will?”  Many individuals and couples do not think that they need a will because they’re estate is too simple, or they “don’t have much.”  This is a common misconception that can lead to lengthy, expensive, and extremely unpleasant family court battles in the future.  Do you have a will?  Why or why not?