When a child becomes an adult, it is a great day for most parents. It means less financial responsibility for their mistakes. Remember those crystal decorations that she broke when she was 12? You remember – the ones that cost you nearly $500 at the store? No doubt, raising a child is expensive. There is also the satisfaction that comes with knowing you did a good job and got them that far. Most importantly, many parents glow with pride each year as they pack their 18-year-olds in their cars and send them off to college to chase their dreams. But just because they are now legally adults, this certainly does not mean they are “adults.” We all know just how impulsive and irresponsible young adults can be, and parents should take certain precautions to ensure they still have ways to protect those children.

Make legal preparations for the possible

It is highly unlikely any 18-year-old heading off to state college is thinking about his or her powers of attorney, but this should be at the top of every parent’s list. Why? For one, when they were still minors, doctors and hospitals would just automatically give you access to health records; you could talk to doctors freely and make health decisions for them if they are unconscious. Things are different now that they have grown up. Federal HIPAA laws and state regulations say that you need written permission to do these things. Likewise, banks may not be willing to communicate with parents about an 18-year-old’s finances or accounts. For these reasons, it is highly advisable for parents to sit down with an estate-planning attorney to get these documents in place before the youngsters head off to school.

Make legal preparations for the unthinkable

While no parent wants to even consider the possibility of a child dying or becoming seriously disabled while away at college, it does happen to a lot of people every year. No one is immune to unforeseen tragedies. But what happens to that formative 529 account that Junior was using to fund his private school education? These accounts usually permit the owner to freely transfer the funds to another household member; however, it may be wise to consider who that would be. If there are no siblings, is there another family member who could benefit? These decisions should be made long before a tragedy. The same is true of life insurance policies.

An 18 or 19-year-old is very cheap to insure. Whole life insurance is a wise purchase at that age, because it is as low as it will ever be. Likewise, even an affordable term policy may be helpful in the event something should happen to the child. This will make funeral expenses less daunting at a time when money should not be an issue. Finally, if you have more than one child, you should be sure to update all beneficiary designations for your own life insurance policies, 401(k), and other similar accounts. You may wish to name several successors or create a trust to act as the beneficiary of your policies. An experienced estate-planning attorney can best advise you on which option is best for you.

Although most couples make similar wills that leave their estate to their children and other loved ones, some may have reasons why they prefer to distribute their assets differently. For instance, people who marry later in life might have children from previous marriages. In those circumstances, they may ask their estate planning attorneys to create contracts that ensure the bulk of their estate goes to their own children, as opposed to letting the surviving spouse leaving everything to his or her children instead.

These cases can get messy. Once a person dies and leaves his or her estate to a spouse, that surviving spouse is free to dispose of everything freely without concern for the deceased spouse’s wishes.

Markey v. Estate of Markey
Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court heard a case involving John Markey and his second wife, Frances. Each had adult children from previous relationships, so they executed a contract stating that after the last of them dies, the net of the estate would be divided equally between John’s son, David, and Frances’s granddaughter. The contract said that once executed, the will was not to be revoked or amended to change these provisions.

Frances breached the contract, leaving her entire estate to her children, to the exclusion of John’s children. Nine months after she died, however, David filed suit to enforce the contract. The trial court held that an action to enforce such a contract is not a probate claim that can be brought against an estate. However, the Indiana Supreme Court disagreed, finding that such actions can indeed be brought as claims against a probate estate. Nevertheless, the matter was returned to the lower court to decide the issue of whether David brought the claim in time.

The Lesson
While at first glance, creating a contract not to revoke a will may seem sound, especially if a couple gets along well, it has huge drawbacks. As with any contract, one should consider the challenges to enforcement. It is impossible for a dead person to enforce a contract. Therefore, the decedent is simply placing that burden on his or her heirs.

Consider a Trust
Since a will only determines what happens at death, it is very difficult to dictate what others will do once an estate has been distributed. On the other hand, a trust has the added benefit of allowing some control long after death. So, had the Markeys created a straightforward marital trust, they could have set everything up precisely as they agreed, given provisions for violating the terms of the trust, and even placed the responsibility of enforcement with a trust company or other third party, so as to avoid feuding among the heirs. This is yet another reason to consult a skilled estate-planning attorney in such delicate situations.

This is a continuation of last week’s discussion of virtual legacies. There was once a time that people could easily recall the phone numbers and addresses of all family members and most of their friends. We kept this information in Rolodexes or address books. Today, things have changed quite a bit. Most of us can hardly recall one or two phone numbers. Many people have a hard time remembering their own spouse’s number. After all, these telephone numbers are stored in our cellular phones and often backed up to the Cloud. E-mail addresses have become the new address, and we don’t need a book or Rolodex, because these are also securely saved in our e-mail server and often backed up to the Cloud as well. We do, however, have hundreds of user names and passwords to remember.

So how on earth would our heirs be able to access our many accounts to easily print bank statements, remove information about us, or obtain records for accountants, attorneys, funeral directors, and other people handling our final affairs. Consider all of the sites and access accounts that would simply be left unattended out their in the drift upon death.

Try this exercise
Sit down with a pen and some paper. Now try to think of every account, membership or website to which you have access. At first, just try to recall them all. You will later want to see if you can recall each username and password. If you are like most Americans, you likely have more usernames and passwords than you even know. One study suggests that 30% of Americans have more than 10 accounts to access. But this seems drastically underestimated. Here are a few reminders to help you get started:

• E-mail Accounts: Include work, personal, that junk e-mail address used for coupons.
• Online Banking Accounts: Include brokerage accounts, 529 funds, and anything else that is used to manage money.
• Social Media Accounts: This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.
• Professional Sites: Consider bar associations, licensing authorities, certification agencies, government sites, and any other access used to maintain your professional credentials. Don’t forget to include sites that offer continuing education.
• Work-related Sites • Dating Sites: Don’t forget to count them.
• School Sites: Many school systems now allow parents access to grades.
• Merchant Accounts: eBay, Amazon.com, Pintrist, Groupon, Yelp, and PayPal.
• Apple ID’s and Cloud Accounts • Credit Card Companies • Utility Companies • Student Loans • Charity Organizations • Church Groups • Cell Phone Companies • Insurance Companies: Life, Health, Auto • Vehicle Payment Sites • Even Netflix and Frequent Flier Accounts
What to do with this data
As you can see, Americans have a lot of accounts to manage. Some people even choose to create a master password system to allow them unified login ability. But this comes with certain drawbacks. Others actually write down all the usernames and passwords and try to put it in a secure place or in a secured, locked Word document. Whatever the case, 10 accounts seems low given the wide range of accounts that Americans have access to and use regularly.

Once you’ve accumulated all the data, you should write this down and include a brief letter of instruction to the personal representative you chose in your will (or the trustee of your trust). In this letter, you will want to instruct that person to either close or manage the accounts. You may want to close all but a few. You may want to establish legacy accounts on social media. Or perhaps you will want an heir to take over a brokerage account. It is much easier if they already have access without having to make dozens of phone calls to tech support.

Ultimately, your legacy now includes a lot more than it used to. Even things we never think of, like our AAA account, have some form of membership login that could make it easier for heirs to pass on benefits or obtain cash rewards or simply clean up affairs after we pass away.

Today, everything is online. People build complex virtual realities through social media, professional and personal websites, and even dating sites. We date online, buy groceries online, sell everything from books to brake pads online, and we even register stars online. So, naturally when we die, there is a lot of personal information about us still available on the Web. After all, the Internet does not come to a screeching halt just because one person passes away. Some have even asked attorneys if they can leave their virtual reality to a loved one. In some ways, the answer may be yes.

But one might ask, what becomes of all that information? What if we own a business or have a public brand, such as a celebrity or business owner? Believe it or not, there are several interesting ways that people can preserve their virtual presence after death and even leave certain intangible benefits found uniquely in the virtual world.

Facebook Legacy Accounts

According to the most recent Census, there are currently about 321,230,000 people living in the U.S. Facebook has 350,000,000 users. That’s right, there are more members than the entire population of America. So, it is safe to say that Facebook has become an almost ubiquitous way to communicate in the modern world. It is used personally and professionally to keep in touch, to promote bands and businesses, and to organize events and causes. However, people die. And when a Facebook user dies, there used to be no options for closing the account. These accounts would sort of languish in the World Wide Web like stray electronic tumbleweeds. Fortunately, Facebook developed a way for family and friends to either close an account or keep it active as a “Legacy Account.”

A legacy account, as they are called, allows a memorial site to remain active for a deceased user, so that family and friends may occasionally pay respects via Facebook, leave kind words for family, and even leave virtual flowers and other gifts. Some people have used these accounts to set up “Fund Me” accounts and other forms of fundraising activities for family and children of deceased users. Setting up a legacy account is very simple, but the user must enable this feature while still living.

Other Social Media

Although sites like LinkedIn and Twitter have not yet embraced the idea of a legacy account, loved ones certainly can close these accounts. Neither site permits family and friends to “access” accounts. Instead, you must request that a deceased person’s account be closed permanently and provide certain information to verify the death. But this is really just a technicality for the tech-savvy estate planner. One way around this is to document your user login information and password. You can simply put them, along with any other key user names and passwords, in a letter to your chosen personal representative. Place that letter in a safe deposit box at your local bank along with your will and other final planning documents. Tell your representative which bank you are using and inform the bank to let that person have access upon presentation of your death certificate. Then your representative can carry out any wishes you may have for your social media sites.

Of course, one should consult an estate planning attorney to determine whether any of the proposed actions could have a negative impact on the proposed estate plan or likelihood of potential litigation. For instance, if a legacy page could be misused by an unscrupulous heir to defraud or embezzle, or if inappropriate posts could lead to will contests or probate litigation, an attorney may advise against it. Nevertheless, everyday deceased people are speaking from the grave on social media, and in many ways though no longer with us in body, they are alive and well in virtual spirit.

In this tight economy, people are always looking for value. Budget options are popping up in every industry, from substandard tires to refurbished televisions. Some even view legal services this way. Let’s face it; folks do not want to pay top dollar for a product they will never use. This is the plight of estate planning. The one who pays for a will or trust will never personally use it. Instead, that individual’s children will be using it to ensure things go right later. Even tools like powers of attorney are created many years before their intended use. Much like passive investing in a 401(k), these are purchases that may not truly prove their value for decades. Naturally, many are turning to low cost DIY form providers, and worse yet, office supply stores, in order to create their estate plan.

While the Internet is full of attorneys and other experts who strongly oppose these DIY options, you may be surprised how many lawyers love Legal Zoom and its kindred. Here are 3 big reasons why experienced attorneys love DIY estate plans.

Litigation is far more expensive than skilled estate planning

Nothing can tear apart a family like divorce and estate litigation. Estate litigation can be particularly nasty, because it generally involves siblings fighting rather than spouses. Whether it is a fight over the validity of a will or trust or a dispute over who should act as a guardian, families routinely become immersed in court battles over things that can be easily avoided through careful planning.

In a will contest, someone who would normally be entitled to inherit from a deceased person comes forward and challenges the authenticity or validity of the will. It is very common to see wills that have generic provisions that sound good to the untrained eye, but upon a court’s inspection fall short of validity.

For instance, some wills may include a clause indicating how final distribution of assets should be made, which, when applied as written, can result in unnecessary tax consequences. Similarly, without a skilled attorney present, many people fail to name successor executors or fail to consider other beneficiary designations, such as where life insurance is going or who gets 401(k) funds in the event of death. Further, powers of attorney may not automatically grant agents the authority to make changes to the estate plan that would be helpful to protect assets in the event of long-term care. Therefore, many people find themselves embroiled in costly litigation for years, due to ambiguities contained in generic planning documents.

2. People who use DIY wills, trusts, and powers of attorney will usually need help fixing mistakes
Just as with litigation, if powers of attorney are poorly drafted for one spouse, it may result in having to make large changes to the other spouse’s estate plan in order to preserve assets. And families who use generic DIY trusts often do not understand the proper way to fund the trust. Therefore, they must still come to an elder law attorney to figure out how to use and administer the trust during their lifetime. This usually results in a complete re-writing of the trust and a host of other corrections that may be more expensive than if they had simply gone to the attorney first.

3. An attorney’s value goes up as a client sees just how much goes into the estate plan
When families have to sit down with an elder law attorney, many are astounded at the complexity of making these careful and informed choices. By seeing the many ways their generic DIY options were insufficient, families immediately begin to see the tremendous value of seeking competent legal assistance.

So, when it comes to one’s final wishes, it is a decision far too important to leave to a box on the office supply store shelf. Nevertheless, using these low cost resources only drives up the cost of attorney fees later when litigation ensues. In that regard, these DIY resources indeed are sometimes more beneficial to the attorneys than the clients.

Attorneys strongly advise gay and lesbian clients to prepare their estate plans, because the law generally would not offer many of the same protections as it does heterosexual couples. But following the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), misinformation abounds, especially on the Internet, regarding whether LGBT seniors should bother considering estate planning now that marriage is an option for all. The short answer is a resounding yes.

Here are just a few benefits of estate planning that elderly LGBT clients can and should take advantage of, regardless of their marital status.

Wills & Trusts

For many years, estate planning attorneys were careful to explain worst-case scenarios for gay and lesbian couples. If one partner dies without a will or a trust, the “intestacy” laws of that state would control who in the decedent’s bloodline is entitled to inherit. These are incredibly strict rules with no wiggle room. If a couple is not married, the surviving partner will have no interest in the estate. Without a will or trust, same-sex couples may bury a beloved partner of many years only to find the entire estate must pass to adult children or other blood relatives. At times, these relatives may be the same people who completely estranged themselves from the decedent many years earlier.

Following the recent Supreme Court decision, marriage between same-sex couples is legal in all 50 states. Therefore, without a will or trust, a spouse’s basic right to inherit is likely protected. However, unlike their heterosexual contemporaries, LGBT couples may have lived with social stigma for years or even been ostracized by their own families. Default rules in some states provide that a surviving spouse and surviving children split the estate.

Therefore, without proper planning, people may unintentionally allow those who have long been estranged to inherit assets intended for a spouse, despite being legally married.

Likewise, until actually married, a partner is not considered an heir. No one wants to be forced into marriage before he or she is ready. Therefore, all the same cautions apply. Since we simply never know when we will die, it is best to plan for the future without relying on the anticipation of marriage. Having a will or a trust allows you to dispose of assets at death and direct them to people you love. Finally, spouses in most states cannot be completely disinherited by a will; instead, they have a right to take an elective share. This means there is a default amount that a spouse can claim from the estate even if the deceased spouse specifically said otherwise in the will. Trusts are more flexible in this regard.

Powers of Attorney

Many same-sex seniors have developed strong ties to “chosen families.” These are the people chosen to replace strong family bonds that were either lost due to social stigmas or family members being unwilling to accept their lifestyle. For this reason, some older adults who are now permitted to marry their long-time partners may overlook the fact that even once married, those same family members are likely to still harbor negative feelings.

There are plenty of horror stories involving heterosexual couples that failed to create adequate powers of attorney. Without advanced directives, a person may have specific end-of-life wishes that his or her spouse wants to honor. Nevertheless, parents, adult children, and other family members may not agree with those wishes. Only time will tell if hospitals and health care providers will automatically and uniformly defer to the instructions of same-sex spouse. Powers of attorney make clear one’s intentions and let the world know who is in charge of those difficult decisions, regardless of whether married, single, same-sex or not.

The law is always changing

With 15 Republican and 5 Democratic Presidential candidates already in the race for the 2016 election, there is no telling which way the tide will swing for LGBT marriage equality. Some candidates and state officials are already opining ways to either skirt the Supreme Court’s decision or outright disobey it.

Recently, the Atlantic reported on comments by Republicans Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, who both separately implied that states, government officials and those opposed to the ruling simply do not have to comply. While legal scholars can certainly debate that issue, these sentiments highlight that the fight is far from over for marriage equality.

As such, elderly LGBT couples, whether married or not, should take steps to prepare their estates and ensure that their individual wishes are carried out, regardless of how laws may develop in the future. This can be as simple as scheduling a consultation with a skilled elder law attorney to discuss the options. After all, marriage alone is not sufficient estate planning.

It seems estate-planning attorneys are often asked to help clients avoid probate. In fact, this is typically one of the first questions people ask in a consultation. There are likely many reasons why people are so focused on probate avoidance, not the least of which is probably a wide misunderstanding of the process. Perhaps family members have told horror stories of oppressive attorney fees or family feuds that destroyed close relationships. Nevertheless, probate is not a dirty word. While probate is a perfectly useful process for disposing of a person’s estate, there are a few points to consider.

A last will and testament does not necessarily avoid probate

Many people mistakenly believe that having a will means not having to go through probate. This is not always the case. While every state has different rules, New York only requires probate if a person dies with more than $30,000 of probate assets. Not every asset is subject to probate. For instance, joint accounts, properties held in joint tenancy, life insurance accounts, 401(k) accounts, generally any asset that has a beneficiary designation, and assets held in trusts are not included in the probate estate. The will simply tells the probate court what the decedent wanted. It also usually waives an executor’s bond requirement and provides a more streamlined method of moving through the process.

Probate can provide certainty regarding debts

Imagine your elderly parent died with tens of thousands in consumer debt. You liquidate all his assets and distribute them equally among your siblings. Everyone is happy and life moves on – for you, not necessarily the creditors. Once they find out their debtor has died, they may come looking for their money. If so, it is common for creditors to open a probate estate and sue the heirs for reimbursement of the debts. After all, the decedent’s debts must be paid before any money is distributed to heirs.

Probate avoids this by providing a clear and strict limitation on collections against the estate. While every state’s rules are different, in New York creditors have 7 months from the date the representative is appointed to make a claim for a debt. The estate must notify known creditors and should also provide a form of public notice to unknown creditors through the local newspaper. If after 7 months, creditors do not file claims, they are forever barred. This provides certainty that once money is distributed to the heirs, there will be no further collections or payments required.

Probate may be required to pursue personal injury actions

Sometimes a person dies due to negligence, and a personal injury attorney will begin the process of filing a lawsuit. Depending on the type of lawsuit, a probate estate may have to be opened in order to get the proper authority to file the lawsuit. This may be the case even if the decedent died with no money at all. Therefore, there are occasions when probate is used not to distribute assets, but rather to gain authority to take some action on behalf of the decedent. Attorneys also sometimes use probate to resolve differences between heirs or gain authority to wind up businesses where there is no direction provided to heirs. Therefore, probate has many functions and can be a necessary part of a person’s final affairs.

An estimated 50 million American households now include a child being raised by a grandparent. Even more households include multi-generational families, where 3 and 4 generations live together. Even the Whitehouse included such an arrangement, as President Obama’s own grandmother resided with his family until her death just before the 2008 election.

But with more Americans than ever raising their grandchildren, there is even more urgency for aging caregivers to consider early estate planning. Without wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, elderly grandparents may find their estates being paid to adult children who have no been a part of their lives for many years. Here are just a few ways that estate plans may be used to protect grandchildren and the grandparents who raise them.

Wills and Trusts

Without a will, the state will decide who acts as the personal representative of an estate. Sadly, there are often reasons why a senior is raising a grandchild. Perhaps the parent has been incarcerated, or the parent has simply become estranged over the years and chosen not to take care of his or her own child. Whatever the reasons, after raising a grandchild from youth to adulthood, many grandparents may prefer that their personal assets be passed to that grandchild. However, under the laws of New York, this will not happen absent a will that expressly dictates it.

Likewise, absent a will, the law determines who will serve as the representative. Therefore, if the adult child is not in the senior’s life and is not raising his or her own child, there may be grave concerns about that person acting as the person responsible for handling probate and other final affairs.

Powers of Attorney

Possibly the most dangerous of all estate planning tools to ignore, powers of attorney protect an elderly caregiver from unscrupulous family members and would-be abusers. Some seniors who are raising grandchildren may develop strong parental ties to their grandchildren – many times stronger than those formed with their own children. For this reason, they often would prefer their grandchildren to make healthcare and financial decisions for them when they are unable.

However, under most state healthcare surrogate laws, grandchildren are fairly far down the list of people who are authorized to act as a decision maker for a legally incompetent senior. Even more importantly, should an official guardianship procedure be needed in order to select a court-appointed guardian, grandchildren may find it very difficult to overcome the presumption that their grandparent’s adult children should be passed over in favor of a grandchild. Therefore, estranged and often less than worthy individuals may gain complete access to a senior’s life savings and healthcare decision-making authority, despite the senior’s clear wishes. A simple power of attorney can clear this up and give the appropriate powers to the person desired for those roles. Therefore, multi-generational households have a number of extra considerations that make estate planning critical.

Americans love our furry friends. In fact, the richest dog in the world died in 2011. For those who don’t already know the story, Leona Helmsley was a wealthy hotel mogul who disinherited all her family and $12 million in trust for her dog, Trouble. She was known for her malcontent and often cruel nature, which earned her the title, “The Queen of Mean.” She died in 2007, but Trouble lived until 2011. Stories like this are becoming more common with time. Many people, however, wonder how they would possible create a trust for a pet. Fortunately, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has several great tips that everyone should consider when planning a pet trust.

Identifying the beloved pet

A vehicle has a VIN number, a home usually has a PIN number and a deed, but a cat has no such “FUR number.” And, although we all like to think our pet is as unique as a snowflake, a bank’s trust manager or the relative you selected to be the trustee may not be able to tell your loveable cat from the neighbor’s stray. At a minimum, here are some options to consider:

1. Get the pet micro chipped and provide the registration information to your estate-planning attorney to be listed in your trust.

2. Take photographs of the pet and attach medical and dental records, if available.

3. Provide your attorney with contact information for the pet’s regular veterinarian.

Consider drafting a separate statement or letter to the trustee

Although a trust has a lot of wonderful legalese about taxes, payments, and so forth, it may not contain a lot of heartfelt discussion of Fluffy’s typical day-to-day routine and lifestyle. If she is used to receiving a full body massage by the pool every morning, then that should be included in the letter. If she is on a special diet, that too should be included. The trust can include a reference stating that the trustee is to exercise reasonable measures to ensure these things are maintained so long as financially viable.

Make sure your trustee knows something about the type of pet (or can retain someone who does)

Not everyone has a dog or cat. There is a growing trend to collect exotic pets, like bears, tigers, and tropical birds. So, if you have a pet tiger you raised by infancy, it is likely the trust management team at Downhome Bank and Trust will have no clue what to do with the pet when you die. Your trust should give some guidance on how to deal with the animal. One way to do this is to consult an expert or local exotic animal handler who will agree to provide consulting services to the trustee for a designated period of time and at an agreed upon price. This way, after you pass away, the trustee can simply contact that person to find out how to best arrange care for the pet.

Don’t forget your pet’s final expenses

As with humans, pet funerals and cremation services can be costly, and finding a business that performs these services can be fairly difficult, especially if you do not live in a major metropolitan area. Therefore, you will want to plan ahead by contacting potential pet funeral services. Just like humans, pet funeral providers often offer prepaid burial plans. This is a great way to fix the cost early so that the trustee is not spending considerable time and effort searching for these services later, thereby spending more trust money that could be put toward your pet’s daily living expenses.

There are many more considerations that need to be discussed with your estate-planning attorney and your chosen trustee. It is advisable that you consider reaching out to animal rights groups, such as the ASPCA, for further guidance on how to properly prepare for your pet’s future after you are no longer able to provide the care.

Once upon a time, there were these somewhat sexist laws called “dower and curtesy.” These laws applied to the specific amount of a decedent’s estate to which his or her surviving spouse would be entitled. They were usually very different; men received more than women. Over the years, these laws were abolished and made way for their modern counterparts – the elective share. Most states have enacted some variation of an elective share statute, which states that surviving spouses are automatically entitled to a specific share – usually around one-third – of their deceased spouse’s estate.

While it may seem harsh to disinherit a spouse, there are often many reasons to do so. For instance, couples that marry late in life after raising their own children may each have substantial assets from prior marriages and from their working careers. Each person may wish to provide for their own descendants rather than seeing their entire estate pass to another family line. This is just one common example.

So, is it impossible to disinherit one’s spouse? Hardly. There are several ways to limit or eliminate a spousal inheritance.

Joint Accounts and Payable-on-Death Accounts

Say a person has $100,000 in liquid cash sitting in several CD’s and bank accounts. This money can be placed in joint accounts with adult children, other family members, or even trusted friends. Upon death, the funds in such accounts will automatically be transferred to the surviving joint account holder without ever passing through the probate estate. This may cause litigation, however, but with proper planning and competent legal advice, it can be easily achieved. Similarly, it can be as simple as making an existing account “payable-on-death” or “transfer-on-death.” These accounts have roughly the same effect as a joint account.

Establish a Trust

Unlike a simple will, which generally must be probated, a trust is not a probate asset. Although there are exceptions to the rule, the use of a trust can omit a spouse or limit the inheritance that he or she receives. Moreover, trusts allow more control following death than a will. Some attorneys like to explain the difference by saying wills are your final utterance to those you love, declaring your intent and wishes, while trusts continue to speak from the grave for decades. This is because trusts have a unique ability to continue controlling how money is used and dispersed to loved ones, even for many years after death.

Lifetime Gifts

Your estate is simply what you have when you die. If you have nothing, your spouse cannot inherit anything. So, when you are nearing the end of life, you can always just write checks to those you love and be done with the whole matter. Now, of course you may need some money to live on. Therefore, you should only do this is you truly trust the people you are giving all your money to, but if they are trustworthy, you could make an arrangement for them to assist with your care and pay your bills with the money you give them. Whatever is left is theirs to keep. Again, however, use extreme caution with such a plan. Further, this sort of action may have catastrophic implications for Medicaid eligibility, should you need long-term care. Do not even consider giving away significant amounts of cash or property without first discussing it with an estate planning attorney.

Divorce May be the Best Option

Ultimately, if you really want to disinherit a spouse, divorce is always the best option to disinherit a spouse without the likelihood of a court undoing your decision. In fact, in most states a will that leaves a bequest to an ex-spouse is automatically invalid. So, if you do not care for the person anyway, rather than attempting complex estate planning, a divorce might just be the ticket. Just be sure you look at your life insurance policies, 401(k) accounts, bank accounts, and other assets that may still be jointly owned or name your spouse as a beneficiary.

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