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Saw a great comment today by a lawyer who is struggling hard to solve a very difficult (and, now, expensive) estate administration problem involving title to real property.
The problem was created by the now-deceased parents of his clients; those parents probably saved all of a few hundred bucks on lawyer fees by doing their own estate planning.
The lawyer's comment:
"You don't always get what you pay for, but you seldom get what you don't pay for."
Good story to remind you of something crucial. Perhaps even more important than your will are all the designations you make over time that pass intangible property (financial accounts most often) outside the will. You should have a day every year where you review these -- the first business day after New Years or your birthday or wedding ( or divorce) anniversary ... Just so that every year you actually eyeball the names of the people who are slated to get the assets in those accounts should you die. There are many horror stories of what happens to survivors of people who fail to do this.
The always-excellent PBS program "Frontline" focuses its lens on the state of assisted living facilities in America. Spoiler alert: It ain't pretty.
The second Oregon edition of
Preparing for Departure ®
will be offered this coming fall 2013, in conjunction with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem.
We are busy updating our material and revising the Oregon-specific provisions we added to the course outline last year with our first Oregon edition.
If you want to participate in this limited offering event and to be placed on the mailing list for updates and enrollment information about this powerful, one-of-a-kind course, complete the survey at this link and provide your contact information there: (Survey Link coming soon).
From the Funeral Consumer Alliance newsletter:
Do you want to pay for a funeral home's advertising? The FCA of the Virginia Blue Ridge has this advice—
Have you noticed that obituaries often display funeral home logos at the end of the notice? One of our board members recently contacted The Roanoke Times to ask who pays for this advertising. This is Times’ response.“The funeral home logo that appears at the bottom of some obituaries is factored into the charge for the obituary. Inclusion of the funeral home logo is optional.”
Be aware of this practice! You do not need to pay for the space that such a logo occupies if you do not want to. Advertising is not a charge that is listed on any funeral home’s General Price List, but it has been suggested by the Funeral Directors Association as a way of enhancing revenue.
It is remarkable how many people tell me "I need a trust," even though they can't tell me why they need a trust.
Here's a little bit of information on trusts that I prepared for the "Preparing for Departure"(TM) seminar that we're giving right now:
Trusts and Living Trusts
Trusts (and living trusts) are often sold (hard) as an alternative to wills and probate, even for people with modest amounts of property. Despite any hype via the media or that you may hear at an "estate planning seminar," living trusts are not for everyone. It depends on what you own and how you own it, as well as what you intend to happen when you die.
Trusts avoid probate (for the property held by the trust only) because the trust, not you, owns the property. In living trusts, you (the grantor) usually set yourself up as both the beneficiary and administrator (the trustee) of the trust, with a successor trustee and successor beneficiaries. While you're alive, you are the business agent of the trust, and you use the trust for your own benefit, such as to pay your bills. If you can’t act as trustee, the successor trustee uses the trust assets for your benefit while you are alive. Then, on your death, the trust assets are used for the benefit of, or turned over to, your successor beneficiaries. Because you did not own the assets solely in your name at your death, they do not need to go through probate.
One downside of trusts is that you need to spend money up front to have the trust created by an attorney and to prepare all the legal documents to change the ownership of your assets (your home, stocks, bank accounts, etc.) to the trust. If you miss something, and you die with assets in your name, a probate may still be required on your death, which is why you still need a pour-over will to "pour" any remaining assets you forgot about into your trust.
The main problem with living trusts is that it's more complex for you to pay taxes, buy and sell things, and just generally to have this separate legal entity in place owning your stuff. It can also just be more expensive.
In fact, in one sense, trusts really don’t avoid probate—they just let you do it yourself while you are still alive, with the extra burden of making sure that every time some circumstance changes in your property or wishes, you do a little bit more probating.
I'm not saying nobody needs a trust. And trusts aren't all bad. I'm just saying that you shouldn't have a trust until you know what problem you are solving by having one, and what the alternatives were, and how much they cost, so that you could compare those alternatives to the care and feeding of the trust.
One reason that some people use them is that they learned about the big, big problems that can result from I call “home brew estate planning,” where people make their someone else a joint owner of their major property, just so that they can "avoid probate." This is often a disastrously bad idea, so if a trust keeps you from doing that, it's a good thing.
For example, if you make your daughter a joint owner with right of survivorship, she can move in with you, she can stop you from selling by refusing to sign off on the deed of sale, and you cannot change your mind and take her off the deed unless she agrees. And if she gets into trouble with debt or legal judgments against her for accidentally injuring someone, you may find yourself co-owning property with someone you never intended.
But you don't need a trust to avoid the home brew estate planning problem. Between Oregon's recently adopted "Transfer on Death Deeds" and a will, you can pretty much do everything you need to do without the bother of a trust.
Great, thoughtful review of an important HBO special here. I don't even have access to HBO, so I have to go out of my way to find this, but it's worth it. Although most people put off planning and thinking about end-of-life decisions too long because they think it's depressing, the reality is that most people find that doing the work and thinking about their wishes for end-of-life care and final arrangements is actually uplifting; there's a lightening that you feel when you make your peace with the fact that we're all mortal, and that we will all leave people we care about and stuff we've acquired behind. Life planning, including plans for what to do if we find ourselves faced with intractable pain, is actually a liberating thing to do.
John Gear is a Salem attorney.