Cheap Estate Plan? Expensive Mess.

Maybe you’ve heard that before investing in a professional service you should shop around and “get three estimates.”  While often this is wise advice, it’s actually a bad idea when it comes to estate planning. This article explains why and how you can ensure you get the most efficient and affordable plan possible for your family without shopping estate planning lawyers the way you may think.

Let’s begin with why “getting three estimates” for an estate plan doesn’t work to actually get you what you want.

First, this recommendation assumes that you should be shopping for an estate plan based on cost and that you understand exactly what you are shopping for and how to evaluate those estimates.

Shopping for an estate plan based on getting the cheapest documents possible is the fastest way to leave your family with an empty set of documents (maybe in a nice binder, but not worth the paper they are written on) that won’t actually work for your family when they need it.

Unfortunately, we see the negative effects of cheap estate planning when family members come to us during a time of grief with that fancy binder that sat on the shelf for years sending out signals of false security, full of out of date estate planning documents and find themselves stuck in Court or conflict, even though that’s exactly what their loved one thought they had paid someone to handle for them.

An Illustrative Story For You About a $3,000 Plan That Didn’t Work
By Alexis Neely, America’s Personal Family Lawyer®

When I was in law school, my father-in-law died. He had spent $3,000 to work with a law firm down in Florida to create estate planning documents that he was told would keep us out of Court and out of conflict with his ex-wife when he died or if he became incapacitated. He got a nice thick set of documents, a fancy binder, and peace of mind. He put the binder on his shelf, never looked at it again and never heard from his lawyer again. He died thinking it was all handled.

You can imagine our surprise then when after his death, we were stuck dealing with the probate court and his ex-wife. The exact things my father-in-law had spent good money to protect us from having to deal with. It turns out that his fancy set of documents had never been updated, so they were out of date. And his assets weren’t even titled in the name of his estate plan.

I thought for sure, this must have been malpractice. But after going to work at one of the best law firms in the Country, and then surveying hundreds of other lawyers just to confirm, I found out that this was not malpractice at all. This was common practice.

Lawyers everywhere were putting in place form documents that they know won’t work when their clients’ families need them, not because they are bad people or bad lawyers, but because that’s how they were trained.

Form documents, no updating of the documents or regular communication with the clients once the plan was done, no inventory of the assets to ensure that all assets could be found after the death or incapacity of a loved one, not ensuring that assets were titled properly to make sure the plan even worked. On top of that, I later discovered that the plans lawyers were putting in place for families with minor kids at home had huge roles that left the kids at risk of being taken out of the home and into protective custody while the Will and named guardians were located. 

When I left to start my own law firm, I made a commitment to create something truly meaningful for my clients, plans that would actually work when their families needed it and provide not only true peace of mind, but a process that would support my clients to not just plan for death, but to become better parents, better business owners, and better community citizens during life, as well.

Here’s 5 reasons why shopping for the cheapest estate plan is likely to leave you with a plan that won’t work for your family … and will leave them with a big mess instead.

#1. The cheapest plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on once you’ve left the attorney’s office — your life changes, the law changes, and your assets change over time. Your plan needs to keep up with those changes.

And, the truth is that a lawyer can’t afford to provide anything more than documents that won’t get updated when you only pay a few hundred dollars for a plan. The business model simply doesn’t work.

#2. That’s why cheap estate plans are often sold by financial professionals who want to get their hands on your money, not do right by your family. 

An attorney who has built a practice to actually serve your family in their best interests can’t make a living selling $399 plans. But insurance and financial professionals getting paid commissions to sell your families annuities and life insurance products can make a living selling cheap documents. Buyer beware!

#3. Forms and documents won’t be there for your family when you can’t be.

You want to leave your loved one’s a relationship with a trusted advisor who you have built relationship with during your lifetime and who has met them and they already trust.

#4. You get what you pay for and after you’re gone, it’s your family that pays the price.

As you read in the story above, my colleague’s father in law died after paying $3,000 for an estate plan (not cheap) so that his family wouldn’t have to deal with the probate court or his ex-wife after his death, and yet that’s exactly what happened when he died — his family was in court and dealing with his ex-wife. Why?

Because the law firm was a traditional forms and documents firm that put in place plans, but didn’t make sure assets were owned in the right way or the plan stayed up to date over time. You might think that’s malpractice, but it’s not. It’s common practice and it leaves your family at risk if and when something happens to you!

#5. An estate plan isn’t a set it and forget it kind of thing, it needs to stay up to date with changes in your life, the law and your assets.

There’s currently more than 1 billion dollars in Florida’s Department of Unclaimed Property. It typically gets there when someone dies or becomes incapacitated and their family loses track of it because it wasn’t tracked well during life. And that’s just one way your family loses out if you’ve shopped around for the cheapest estate plan rather than getting in place a plan that actually works for the people you love.

If what you want is the false security of a cheap estate plan, go online and do it yourself. Chances are, you haven’t done that because you know that’s risky business and you love your family too much for that.

Well, it’s the same way when you are shopping around town for the cheapest plan possible. Because you love your family, you don’t actually want the cheap plan, you want the plan that’s going to work for the people you love, when they need it.

In the meantime, if you already have an estate plan in place and you’re worried you may have gotten a cheap plan that won’t actually serve your family when they need it most, contact us for a plan review. You can either have us do it for you, or you save some money by doing it yourself with our guidance and then come in to discuss what you discovered along the way.

Contact us at (813) 514-2946 to get on our calendar. We begin our planning process with a Planning Session, during which you’ll become more financially organized than you ever have been before and you’ll finally be in a place to make informed, educated choices about the right plan for your family based on the things that really matter, instead of just shopping around by price.

Probate Overview

 

 

 

 

 

 

Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s estate is properly distributed to heirs and designated beneficiaries and any debt owed to creditors is paid off. In Florida, there’s Summary Administration and Formal Administration.  The main phases of administering an estate involve:

  1. Gathering, identifying and valuing estate assets;
  2. Identifying, and satisfying creditor claims and paying final taxes; and
  3. Distributing the balance of the estate assets to the intended beneficiaries.

While in Florida, probate doesn’t have to be a “four letter” word, it is still not a fast process and families often get frustrated with the process and stressed about paying creditors. The most common complaints about probate include the following:

  1. It takes too long.
  2. It costs too much.
  3. It’s a public process, involving a judge.

In our experience, one of the main stumbling blocks we see for families involved in probate is gathering information about their loved one’s accounts, properties and creditors. And in many cases, families aren’t able to figure it all out.  That’s why so many assets end up in the Florida Department of Unclaimed Property. Currently there’s over one billion dollars sitting there because when people die, their families don’t know about all of their property or accounts.

To learn more about probate and strategies for making it easier for your family, contact us today. Our firm does more than just draft documents.  We help clients make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for themselves and their loved ones. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session in which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and learn how to protect what matters most to you. Call us today to learn how you can get this $500 session for free.

 

Appoint a Guardian to Keep Your Kids In Safe Hands At All Times

Every parent who’s watched the news lately has felt the heartbreak over what’s happening to immigrant families at the border. Between May and June 2018, more than 2,300 kids have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Think of the horror of kids crying and begging for their parents. What would it be like for your own kids to be taken into the custody of strangers?

Let this be the moment that you place your own fears aside and take a look at the privilege you have of being able to make choices on behalf of your kids to ensure their well-being and care by the people you want, no matter what happens.

It can happen to your family.
Even though most people think that something like that could never happen to their family, they’re totally wrong. While your kids almost certainly won’t be taken into custody by U.S. border agents, your kids could be taken into the care of strangers if something happens to you—even if your family or friends are on the scene.

But you can do something to protect your kids and ensure they’re always in the care of people you know, love, and trust. Take action on behalf of your own kids—instead of merely feeling numbness and paralysis over not knowing what to do—these events can inspire you to do the things you know you must in order to properly take care of your family.

Understand the risk.
While it may seem like a long shot, the consequences are serious enough that you must consider the real possibility of what could happen and ensure you’ve taken right actions to protect your loved ones. Let’s say you and your spouse have gone out to dinner together and left the kids with a babysitter. But on the way home, you’re in a car accident. The police will get to your house, find your kids home with a babysitter, and have no choice but to take your kids into the care of the authorities (strangers) until they can figure out what to do.

Appoint a Guardian to Keep Your Kids In Safe Hands At All Times

 

Every parent who’s watched the news lately has felt the heartbreak over what’s happening to immigrant families at the border. Between May and June 2018, more than 2,300 kids have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Think of the horror of kids crying and begging for their parents. What would it be like for your own kids to be taken into the custody of strangers?

Let this be the moment that you place your own fears aside and take a look at the privilege you have of being able to make choices on behalf of your kids to ensure their well-being and care by the people you want, no matter what happens.

It can happen to your family.

Even though most people think that something like that could never happen to their family, they’re totally wrong. While your kids almost certainly won’t be taken into custody by U.S. border agents, your kids could be taken into the care of strangers if something happens to you—even if your family or friends are on the scene.

But you can do something to protect your kids and ensure they’re always in the care of people you know, love, and trust. Take action on behalf of your own kids—instead of merely feeling numbness and paralysis over not knowing what to do—these events can inspire you to do the things you know you must in order to properly take care of your family.

Understand the risk.

While it may seem like a long shot, the consequences are serious enough that you must consider the real possibility of what could happen and ensure you’ve taken right actions to protect your loved ones. Let’s say you and your spouse have gone out to dinner together and left the kids with a babysitter. But on the way home, you’re in a car accident. The police will get to your house, find your kids home with a babysitter, and have no choice but to take your kids into the care of the authorities (strangers) until they can figure out what to do.

This is the case even if you have friends or family living nearby. If you haven’t left proper legal documentation, the authorities have no option but to call child protective services—that is, unless you’ve legally given them an alternative. This is true, for example, even if you have named godparents. You must give the authorities a legal basis for keeping your kids with the close friends or family you designate.

Without your action, when the babysitter answers the door, she’s in complete shock and willing to stay with your kids while the authorities find a relative to take them. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the legal authority to care for the kids—even temporarily—so the police have no choice but to call child protective services. These authorities will take your kids into custody until they can locate and/or appoint the proper guardian.

Maybe you have plenty of family who’d want to take custody of your kids if something were to happen to you. Maybe some of them even live close by, so the authorities could easily find them. Maybe more than one family member would want to take custody of your kids (and the financial resources you’re leaving behind for them).

We’ve seen what happens when well-meaning family members—who think they’d be the best choice as caretaker for their young relatives—go to battle in the name of love. It isn’t pretty. In such a situation, it takes years of legal fighting, making lawyers wealthy, while the kids are stuck in the middle. In almost every case, each side fighting for the care of the kids feels certain they’re doing what the parents would’ve wanted and what’s best for the kids.

Know your options and your responsibility.

The sad thing is, this all can be completely (and very easily) prevented. However, to ensure your kids are never taken into the care of strangers—or put in the middle of a family conflict—you must take action now. Please do not leave this to chance. You have the privilege to be able to guarantee that your kids are never taken into the care of strangers—or into the care of anyone you would not choose—but you must take action now to exercise that privilege.

Maybe you think this could never happen to your family because your family would never fight over your kids or because you’ve named close friends as godparents. But why take that risk, when it’s so easy to do the right thing by the people you love more than anything?

And if you think you’ve already done the right thing because you have a will that names legal guardians for your kids, think again. We’ve found that in most cases, even parents who worked with a lawyer to name legal guardians have made at least one of six common mistakes that leave their kids at risk.

These mistakes are made because unfortunately, most lawyers do not know what’s necessary for planning and ensuring the well-being and care of minor kids.

Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty has been trained on legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor kids at home. If you’ve already created a will, Myrna can help you identify whether you’ve made any of the six common mistakes that could leave your kids at risk. If you have not yet taken any action, Myrna can help you take the first steps and make the very best decisions for the people you love.

Here’s how to get started.
Call us at (813) 514-2946 to book a comprehensive Planning Session.

You might think that such a thing could never happen to your family, but in these scary times, you can never be too safe.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna’s firm offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

Never Buy Your Will From Living Social or Groupon

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Of the major life events that require your serious consideration, few are as emotionally charged as how to leave your assets for loved ones at the time of your death. This often complex process is accomplished through legal documents such as wills and trusts, which have recently become available for purchase online as standard forms.

The assets you have acquired during your life and the ways that you own them are often far more complex than a standard legal document or online service can anticipate.  When you make that important decision to create a will or put your assets into a trust, you need an experienced estate planning attorney to guide you so that your wishes for life and death can be carried out without risk of your family getting stuck in court or conflict, when it’s too late.

Your incapacity or death will be an emotional time for your family. During this time, they need guidance, not a set of documents, which may not have even been kept up to date or adequately cover after-acquired assets.

In certain cases such as being married multiple times, having minor children, or owning a small business, legal assistance is especially necessary.

There may also be a variety of different tax or asset protection implications for your beneficiaries. The right lawyer can advise you on the best way to handle the different assets you own such as real estate, investments, a small business, or personal property.

Is a trust right for your situation? Is there a way to transfer an asset before you pass, so that it will be protected from claims, creditors or taxation? Groupon can’t help you with that.

You may save money initially if you have a simple, small estate with few assets by just using a form that you find online. But if you become incapacitated before death, your family could get stuck with a long drawn out court process, as they attempt to get control of your financial assets. And, if your document is unclear, contestable, or wholly or partially invalid, it’s your family who will be paying the price down the road.

Speak with attorney Myrna Serrano Setty to create an estate plan that protects you and your loved ones.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why Myrna offers a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling Myrna’s office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Squabbles Between Alan Thicke’s Heirs Highlight the Importance of Properly Drafted and Updated Estate Planning

Image result for alan thicke

Do you remember the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains? The late actor Alan Thicke played the wise and fun dad and psychiatrist Dr. Jason Seaver. Ever since he died from a sudden heart attack, his children and his widow have been battling over his estate. Unlike some celebrities, he had a fairly comprehensive estate plan. But with three marriages, three sons from two of those marriages, and an estate worth an estimated $40 million, the planning is proving insufficient to stave off family feuding.

Stepmom vs. Stepchildren

Specifically, Alan’s two oldest sons—Robin and Brennan—have been fighting his third wife, Tanya Callau Thicke, for almost two years. The first petition filed in California Superior Court in May 2016 by Robin and Brennan—who are co-trustees of their late father’s estate—sought clarification of conflicting terms in Alan’s living trust and a prenuptial agreement he and Tanya signed before getting married in 2005.

At issue was the division of Alan’s $3.5 million ranch in Carpinteria, where he and Tanya lived. The prenup states that Tanya would get 25% of his net estate, including a five-acre parcel of the ranch property. But the trust doesn’t grant her any ownership of the ranch, only the right to live there as long as she pays all of the expenses.

Robin and Brennan’s case alleged that Tanya demanded a larger portion of Alan’s estate than she was allocated in the trust and that she planned to contest the validity of the prenuptial agreement.

Tanya claimed her stepsons’ legal claim was merely aimed at smearing her in the media, and she never had any intention of challenging the prenup. Other reports allege the petition was retaliation for Tanya’s refusal to allow the brothers to convert the ranch into a medical marijuana farm.

In September 2017, a judge rejected the sibling’s petition to block Tanya from challenging the prenup, finding there was no evidence she ever planned to take such action.

A Breach of Duties?

More recently in May 2018, Tanya filed papers accusing her step-sons of violating their fiduciary duties as co-trustees. She claims they’re spending the estate assets recklessly, failing to pay her share of the inheritance, unfairly saddling her with taxes and other expenses that are not her responsibility, and failing to keep her clearly informed about estate proceedings.

One of her specific complaints asserts that the step-sons refused to reimburse her for a monument she placed at Alan’s gravesite. This claim was exacerbated by reports that the older brother Robin was reimbursed $105,000 for an elaborate memorial party he threw the night before his father’s burial.

Tanya plans to file a lawsuit against the siblings if they don’t meet her demands. And her suit may have merit, as trustees owe a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of beneficiaries and account for all financial transactions related to the trust.

Lessons Learned

Though we’ll have to wait and see how Robin and Brennan react to Tanya’s latest claim and how the court rules, the case highlights several important estate planning issues.

First, second (or more) marriages with children from a prior marriage are always at risk of going down the road of conflict. If you are in such a marriage, it’s critical we plan in advance to ensure that your loved ones have the best chance at getting along after your incapacity or death.

It’s important that documents like a trust are regularly updated to ensure that they’re current and don’t conflict with other legal agreements, like a prenup.

Finally, this case shows that a trust won’t stay private if the heirs have a conflict that results in court proceedings. One of a trust’s key benefits is that it keeps the contents of the estate confidential. But if a dispute ends up in court, the estate documents can be made public, exposing not only your assets, but all of your family’s “dirty laundry” as well.

Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, contact attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. If you already have a plan in place, Myrna can review and update it to avoid similar conflicts.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why she offers a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling Myrna’s office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.