For many people with animals, those furry friends are a part of the family. We make exceptions for them to make sure that they are taken care of while we are alive, and it is not uncommon for people to include provisions in their estate planning for pet care after a human companion passes away. Making sure your pets are taken care of after you pass is an important part of responsible pet ownership as well as an important part of comprehensive estate planning. However, a recent article from Fox News provides some reminders of traps to avoid when including your pets in your estate plan.

An Important Consideration

If you include provisions for your pet(s) in your estate plan, make sure they are realistic. A pet does not fit into everyone’s life, so when approaching estate planning for pets you first need to be confident that the person you nominate to care for your pet(s) is ready and able to accept the responsibility. This means that you will need to have a serious discussion with the person you are designating as the caretaker before you create provisions in your estate plan involving them. This important reminder extends to a number of different aspects beyond pets – and an experienced estate planning attorney can help you approach them correctly.

We try to provide readers with helpful tips and hints to make the estate planning process easier and more comprehensive regardless of an individual’s financial situation. Consistently, one of the most important aspects of successful and comprehensive estate planning is communication. While engaging in estate planning is an important step, making sure your loved ones and heirs understand your estate plan as well as the reasons for your decisions is a crucial component of making sure your estate plan is solid and will fulfill your wishes. Recently, Marketwatch.com featured an article that highlights some tips on you can approach talking about your estate plan with your family.

The Importance of Communication

Your loved ones and heirs are the most affected by your estate plan and the events that lead to it. If you spend the time, money, and energy involved in creating an estate plan that addresses your goals and the needs of your heirs then it only makes sense to communicate that to them.

As important as talking about estate planning is, almost nobody will tell you that doing so is easy. In fact, talking about estate planning is usually pretty difficult. We have written about many different approaches to talking to your heirs about your estate plan, but communication is an extremely important part of estate planning and works both ways. A recent article from The Week may help you find ways to approach talking to your parents about your inheritance. One of the most important things to remember is that even with a difficult topic like this, discussions about these things typically end on a good note. The following tips can help you strike the right chord when approaching estate planning with your parents.

Timing Is Key

The article points out that some individuals might be inclined to have discussions about serious family topics like inheritances during holiday visits. However, experts warn that it is important to remember that holidays are often already a stressful time for everyone and trying to have a serious discussion about something as important as estate planning might be rather difficult during these times. It could even end up striking the wrong tone and making any future discussions about the topic that much more difficult and unpleasant.

One of the primary purposes of responsible, comprehensive estate planning is to make sure that you are able to distribute as much of your estate as possible to your chosen heirs. After all, you worked hard for a lifetime to build your estate and most people engage in estate planning to make sure as much of their estate survives as possible. A recent article from The Motley Fool reminds us of the role Roth IRAs can play in making sure that the inheritances you leave to your heirs do not fall victim to unexpected taxes. This is especially true in today’s world where there is a great deal of uncertainty as to the direction of our nation’s tax system.

Roth IRA Basics

A Roth IRA is an individual retirement plan that allows you to put a certain amount of money into it each year. The money you contribute to a Roth IRA will already be taxed. That means that qualified withdrawals from the Roth IRA will be tax free when you start to take them. Roth IRAs might even provide a tax credit for some of your contributions depending on a number of factors regarding your individual circumstances and financial situation. The earlier you make the choice to start a Roth IRA, the better as a Roth IRA must be active for at least five years prior to your death in order to escape federal income taxes.

When the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, it opened up a lot of doors that had been closed to many people in society. However, it also created a significant amount of new legal concerns for same-sex couples. With marriage, a host of new questions and responsibilities have arisen. Not the least of those concerns is responsible, comprehensive estate planning. While comprehensive estate planning is crucial for all individuals regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation, it is an extremely important consideration for same-sex couples that may not have had an estate plan in place.

Potential Issues

An article from the Cleveland Jewish News points out that same-sex couples – especially unmarried same-sex couples – could still face a host of legal hurdles when it comes to the death of one person in the relationship. These concerns could include issues involving health care and power of attorney, which make it extremely important for unmarried couples to make sure documents addressing these concerns are in place should they be needed. Without these documents, there may be laws in place prohibiting an unmarried same-sex partner from making important financial and health-related decisions if an individual becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to make such decisions on their own.

A last will and testament is a very important document detailing the final wishes of a deceased person and New York probate courts give great deference to the language contained in a deceased individual’s decrees. One of the limited ways interested parties to an estate can challenge the directives contained in a last will and testament is to claim the deceased was not of sound mind and body at the time the document was executed, due to the undue influence of an individual attempting to take advantage of the situation and enrich himself or herself.

New York’s Surrogate Courts have very limited instances in which someone can contest the deceased’s wishes to disperse his or her property to the beneficiaries of the estate and asserting undue influence is often one of the most difficult to prove. The petitioner must prove to the court the testator somehow could not escape the influence of someone with a close, personal relationship to the deceased.

Additionally, the individual petitioning the court to invalidate the will must be an interested party, meaning he or she must have a legal claim to the deceased’s estate as a relative, usually a spouse or child. Under New York inheritance laws, spouses and children are typically granted a certain share or proportion of the estate and are therefore given standing to interject as an interested party.

Once a tool for wealthy families to protect their assets when heirs got married, prenuptial agreements are now much more common in our society. Typically, such agreements cover property rights and other aspects of asset retention – but they can also set forth provisions for how each spouse will handle drafting their respective Wills. Since prenuptial agreements are increasingly more common today, it is important to understand how they could affect your estate plan. The following information can provide some insight into how prenuptial agreements might impact your estate planning goals.

Prenuptial Agreements and Priority

While you may think that your Last Will and Testament will take priority over other documents as long as it is executed in accordance with the law, that is not necessarily true. In fact, a prenuptial agreement is likely to take priority over your Will depending on the circumstances within the agreement and how it was drafted. Typically, the only way to avoid this would be for an individual to prove that a prenuptial agreement was signed under duress or that the agreement itself was designed in a way that encouraged divorce and exclusion from assets.

There are a number of reasons that people create joint bank accounts. Perhaps you and your spouse want to share a bank account to help simplify your marital finances. You may use joint bank accounts to help teach your children the importance of budgeting and financial planning. You may even need to have access to someone else’s bank account if they are incapacitated or cannot make purchases on their own. Whatever the reason for having a joint bank account, they are not without potential issues when it comes to your estate plan.

Vulnerability

Adding a person as an owner of a bank account inherently makes the account itself more vulnerable. In addition to the potential issues raised below, the more people you add as owners of a joint account the more likely you are to fall victim to theft – including identity theft. By adding individuals to the account, you will increase the risk of lost or stolen cards and/or checkbooks. Additionally, if the person you add to the account is not financially responsible, you risk losing the assets in that account because of poor financial planning.

In today’s day and age, identity theft is all too common a problem. In fact, the news is often filled with horror stories related to identity theft. Identity theft is a serious problem that can wreak havoc on your life, and it can also have a significant impact on your estate plan. The following information can help you start to understand the potential effects of identity theft on your estate plan.

Access to Private Information

Wills, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, and other estate planning documents contain very personal information. Not only do some documents have your social security number, but they could also contain other sensitive financial information, too. It is extremely important to safeguard these documents to prevent such information from slipping into the wrong hands. For instance, if someone were to gain access to this type of personal information they could potentially open up credit cards in the name of the deceased individual or even file a final tax return in their name before heirs have a chance to do so.

There are two main types of trusts: revocable and irrevocable. Basically, each trust is self-explanatory on the surface. For the most part, you have unfettered ability to revoke or amend a revocable trust. In contrast, it is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to revoke or even amend an irrevocable trust. On the surface, it appears – and is true – that a revocable trust provides the creator of such trust with greater flexibility in modifying that trust to meet their comprehensive estate planning goals. However, irrevocable trusts still play an important role in estate planning and it is important to understand their benefits to make an informed choice about the type of trust that might be right for you.

Avoiding Probate

While most trusts will avoid probate, irrevocable trusts established during your lifetime will definitely be able to avoid probate. This will ultimately save you and your loved ones time and money by allowing a trust to take effect immediately as it has been designed to do. Your loved ones will be able to access an irrevocable trust according to its structure without having to wait for the courts to approve a Will or other documents related to probate of the deceased person’s estate.

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