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.

In the second part of our two-part series on recognizing fraudulent Wills, we will continue to explore various characteristics of a Last Will and Testament that might indicate it is fraudulent. While some of the factors in the first part of this series might be a little more obvious, the information below may help you understand some less common but still observable aspects of a Will that could indicate it has been tampered with.

Wills Disproportionately Benefitting Religious Organizations or Charities

Especially in cases where a deceased person was not active in a religious organization or was only minimally active, this type of provision in a Will could indicate that something is amiss. Sadly, many elderly people can be easily influenced by unscrupulous individuals that want to use assets for their own benefit or to benefit something they find to be particularly important. Sometimes this comes at the hand of the religious organization itself, and sometimes it comes as a result of the influence of an individual with close ties to the religious organization in question. This is also true for large distributions to charities a deceased person would not normally have given money to or did not have a record of supporting during his or her lifetime.

Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous people in the world that will go to great lengths to take advantage of certain situations. This is true when it comes to a person’s Last Will and Testament. While you might never contemplate changing a person’s Will to suit your needs, that does not mean other individuals will not try. Unfortunately, this can sometimes include members of your own family. While there are a variety of steps an individual can take to cover their tracks if they have interfered in the Will of a deceased person, there are some common warning signs that might help you detect if a Will has been forged or not. The following information may provide you with some insight in what to look for.

Wills Not Signed in Presence of a Lawyer

If a Will was not signed in the presence of an experienced estate planning attorney, there is a good chance the Will could be fake. In fact, if the Will was not signed in the presence of the deceased person’s estate planning or family attorney but was signed in front of a different attorney with little or no relationship to the deceased, there could be foul play involved. Estate planning is often an intimate, complicated process. It is important for individuals to be comfortable with their estate planning attorney, and utilizing outside legal services – especially legal services that have a relationship with potential beneficiaries – could mean a Will is not proper.

Once a tool for extremely wealthy individuals, trusts have gained in popularity over recent decades. Changes in laws governing trusts and the development of new approaches to estate planning have made trusts an invaluable tool for many working class families to ensure they are able to provide financial security to their loved ones. A trust can help make sure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes in a variety of different ways, some of which are discussed below. An experienced estate planning attorney can review the various types of trusts that you may be eligible for and can help you determine the right type and structure to achieve your estate planning goals.

Trusts Can Avoid Probate

The majority of trusts are established during a person’s lifetime, and these trusts will be eligible to avoid the probate process. While the New York probate process is less difficult than the probate process in other states, it can still be time-consuming and costly. Trusts are an effective way to allow loved ones to access the assets you wish to distribute to them without waiting for the probate process to be complete. Ultimately, this saves you time and money in addition to keeping assets within the trust out of the public record associated with the probate process.

In the second part of our series on the topic of things you need to do when a loved one dies, we will explore some of the things that should be addressed within roughly six months of the death of a loved one. Again, these lists are not exhaustive. However, they can help you start to think about the various issues that need to be addressed.

Notify Social Security

Within one month after the death of a loved one, the United States Social Security Administration needs to be informed of their death. They will have to put various processes in motion that stop social security and other benefit payments from continuing. Failure to do so could result in identity theft, or even if liability for repayment of such benefits. Depending on your relationship with the deceased and their benefits, you could also be eligible for survivor benefits that can have a significant positive impact on your everyday life.

Death is a challenging subject, even more so when we are confronted with it directly. When a loved one dies, it is an immeasurably difficult experience. People experience a range of emotions, and often it can be hard to understand what to do next. In this series, we will explore some of the important steps you need to take after experiencing the death of a loved one. While these are not exhaustive lists, the first part of this series is dedicated to helping you understand some of the things that need to be addressed as soon as possible after the death of a loved one. It is not easy to bring yourself to undertake some of these tasks, but being aware of how crucial many of them are is an important part of finding ways to accomplish them – either personally or by enlisting the help of someone your trust.

Safeguard Property and Secure Arrangements

Depending on the circumstances surrounding a person’s death, it may become crucial to ensure that any property they have left behind is properly secured. This may include their home and/or their vehicle. You will want to make sure everything is locked and stored appropriately, that utilities are shut off, and that anything potentially dangerous to others has been properly taken care of.

Today, financial planning and estate planning are inherently intertwined in a number of different ways. Comprehensive estate planning requires responsible financial planning, and responsible financial planning will create assets which comprehensive estate planning will help you protect. One of the world’s most important assets is our children. Once children enter the picture, their future becomes one of the most important focuses of a parent. To that end, one of the most important aspects of a child’s well-being is their education and a college savings plan – typically known as a 529 plan – can be an integral part of financing higher education opportunities, which makes it an important part of your estate planning considerations, too.

Understanding 529 College Savings Plans

A 529 college savings plan is a state-sponsored program that enables parents or other interested individuals to set aside money each year to eventually help offset the rising costs of higher education. These plans are meant for long-term contributions that build the amount by collecting earnings on the principal you contribute to the plan. Eventually, you can make penalty-free withdrawals from the plan as long as you are using those withdrawals to pay for qualified educational expenses. These withdrawals may even be made directly to a school for such expenses. Some states offer various types of plans, but most of them accomplish the same goal.

For many people, pets are more than just entertainment. They can easily become part of your family, making memories more special and providing endless enjoyment for their human companions. Given the important role pets play in our lives, it is important to consider them when engaging in estate planning. This is especially true when an individual has a less traditional pet or a pet with special needs that may require extensive care were the pet’s human companion to pass. There are several ways to ensure that your pet or pets are taken care of should something happen to you.

Pet Provisions

While we may view pets as being a member of the family, the law sees them as property. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you include specific provisions in your Will that name the person or persons that will be responsible for caring for your pet. You will also have the opportunity to set aside funds for pet care in your Will. It is important to be specific about whom should inherit your pet as well as what assets you ill bequeath them, if any. It is also a good idea to discuss pet care with the person you have in mind prior to naming them in your Will to determine whether or not they are in a position to adequately care for your pet.

For the most part, most of your comprehensive estate planning is aimed at making sure other people are taken care of after your death. However, providing for others is not the only goal of estate planning in today’s world. As we begin to live longer lives, we must also take our own potential needs into consideration when designing an estate plan. Recently, Forbes ran an article that pointed out many people make a huge mistake when engaging in estate planning: they forget to plan for their own well-being. In other words, an important part of your estate plan is making sure you put mechanisms in place to address scenarios where you may become seriously ill or disabled, or for circumstances where you may require long-term care. The following important documents should be part of everyone’s estate plan.

Advanced Health Care Directive

An advanced health care directive allows you to nominate an individual that can make decisions about your healthcare should you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make such decisions on your own. The amount of leeway given to this nominee depends on how you structure the directive, which means that you can make it as narrow or as broad as you would like. These work in tandem with living wills, which can be used to explain the type of medical treatment you do and do not want to receive in certain circumstances. Together, these forms can help spare family members and other loved ones from making difficult decisions that may be contrary to your wishes because they enable you to clearly convey your views on medical care.

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