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Does Your Estate Plan Protect Your Intellectual Property?

If you own a business, you almost certainly have intellectual property. However, because your intellectual property is intangible, it can be invisible to you and those who aren’t familiar with the nature of intellectual property and its value, so it often gets overlooked, especially when it comes to estate planning. Yet, if you fail to properly document your intellectual property, your estate plan will likely not protect it—and this could cause your loved ones to miss out on what can be among your most valuable assets.

When we talk about intellectual property, we’re referring to creations of the mind, including inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, logos, brand names, and images, all of which are used in the course of a business.

Even if you’ve worked with a lawyer to set up your business entity or a CPA to file your taxes, those advisors may not be thinking about or helping you plan for what happens to your intangible business assets upon your death. Similarly, most lawyers who focus on estate planning don’t really understand the value of intellectual property and how to protect it.

Along those same lines, when helping you set up your business structures, most business lawyers aren’t thinking about your incapacity or death. With this in mind, it’s vital that you understand enough to ensure that any intellectual property you own is documented, protected, and you’re working with a legal team that helps ensure the value of your intellectual property isn’t lost when you die. 

Identifying, Valuing, and Protecting Your Intellectual Property

In today’s world, your intellectual property could be your most valuable asset. In fact, studies show that 80% of a typical company’s total value consists of intellectual property. Given this, we want to support you to make the invisible visible, enhance its value, protect it properly, and ensure your family receives the maximum value from your intellectual capital when you pass away. 

Properly protecting your intellectual property, or IP, begins with identifying it and valuing it. Yet, even the biggest of today’s companies often fail in this regard. “Very few companies recognize the value of their IP, nor have they secured an IP strategy that mirrors their long-term corporate strategy in order to maximize this value,” said Brian Hinman, Chief Innovation Officer at Aon, a leading global professional services firm.

And while you might think that identifying, protecting, and valuing your intellectual property is something that only applies to big companies, not small businesses like yours, that’s definitely not the case. Indeed, your intellectual property can be of even greater value to your loved ones once you’re no longer around and able to financially provide for them.

For all of these reasons, it’s imperative that you take the proper steps to not only protect these intangible assets during your lifetime but that you also use estate planning to ensure that your intellectual property is properly handled following your death, so your loved ones can continue to get the most value out of these most valuable assets.

Documentation and Registration
The first step to take in protecting your intellectual property is to formally document it in your inventory of assets. When you create your asset inventory, be sure to not only list all business entities you own, but also consider that each business entity should maintain a record of its assets, including intangible assets like intellectual property.

The next step is to legally register trademarks, copyrights, and patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and ensure you have the proper legal agreements and contracts in place to ensure there’s no question about who owns these works. To this end, if you have not protected your intellectual property with copyrights, trademarks, patents, royalty and licensing agreements, non-competes for employees, and work-for-hire provisions in your existing agreements with independent contractors and vendors, now is the time to do so. 

Don’t wait until your intellectual property gets stolen or you receive a cease-and-desist letter to put these protections in place. Registering a trademark or copyright might cost you time and money, but failing to register your brand can ultimately cost you far more than that in legal fees or the lost value of your assets, especially if you end up in court, trying to fight for what you thought you owned.

Address Your Intellectual Property in Your Estate Plan

In addition to protecting your intellectual property during your lifetime, you don’t want to put your loved ones in the position of losing those intangible assets in the event of your incapacity or death. To prevent your heirs from losing out on your most valuable assets, as well as ensuring they don’t get caught up in long, costly court battles over the ownership of your intangible assets, you should put in the time and energy to protect these assets now.

After you have documented your intellectual property, review the operating agreement or bylaws of your business entity. And if you don’t have an operating agreement or bylaws, now is the time to put these essential legal agreements in place. Read through your governing documents to see what they say about what happens to your business and its intellectual property upon your death or incapacity.

If you think this all sounds overly complicated, imagine how much more difficult it will be for your loved ones to deal with it should something happen to you. In fact, it could prove impossible for your loved ones to handle these matters in your absence, which is why it’s so important for you and your legal team to take care of these issues now. That way, your family isn’t stuck trying to clean up your mess after your death.

To demonstrate just how lengthy, costly, and ugly court battles over intellectual property can be, read this account of the troubles American writer John Steinbeck’s children and grandchildren had in dealing with the rights to his literary works following his death. Even though the Nobel Prize-winning author died in 1968, his family members were still fighting over his intangible assets as recently as 2017, nearly half a century later.

 

Protect Your Intellectual Property For Future Generations
While you might not be a Steinbeck, you very well may have valuable intellectual property that has not been properly documented or addressed in your estate plan. If that’s the case, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, right away to discuss how we can support you in documenting, valuing, and protecting these intangible assets, so your loved ones can benefit from these creations for generations to come.

This article is a service of Stephanie D. Hon, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer 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 our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

5 Steps For Adding Digital Assets To Your Estate Plan

Although digital technology has made many aspects of our lives much easier and more convenient, it has also created some unique challenges when it comes to estate planning.

If you haven’t planned properly, for example, just locating and accessing all of your digital assets can be a major headache—or even impossible—for your loved ones following your death or incapacity.And even if your loved ones can access your digital assets, in some cases, doing so may violate privacy laws and/or the terms of service governing your accounts. You may also have some online assets that you don’t want your loved ones to inherit, so you’ll need to take measures to restrict and/or limit access to such assets.

​Given the unique nature of your online property, there are a number of special considerations you should be aware of when including online property in your plan. Here are a few of the steps you should take to help ensure your digital assets are properly accounted for, managed, and passed on.

1. Make an inventory:

Create a list of all your digital assets, along with their login and password information. Some of the most common digital assets include cryptocurrency, online financial accounts, online payment accounts like PayPal, websites, blogs, digital photos, email, and social media.

Store the list in a secure location, and provide your fiduciary (executor, trustee, or power of attorney agent) with detailed instructions about how to locate and access your accounts. To make them easier to manage, back up any cloud-based assets to a computer, flash drive, or other physical storage device. Review this list regularly to account for any new digital property you acquire.

2. Include digital assets in your estate plan:

Just like any other property you want to pass on, detail in your plan who you want to inherit each digital asset, along with your wishes for how the asset should be used or managed. If you have any assets you don’t want passed on, include instructions for how these accounts should be closed and/or deleted.

Do NOT include passwords or security keys in your planning documents, where they can be read by others. This is especially true for your will, which becomes public record upon your death. Instead, keep this information in a separate, secure location, and provide your fiduciary with instructions about how to access it. Consider using digital account-management services, such as Directive Communication Systems, to help streamline this process.

If you have particularly complex or highly encrypted digital assets like cryptocurrency, consider including provisions in your plan allowing your fiduciary to hire an IT consultant to deal with any technical challenges that might come up.

3. Restrict access:

Include terms in your plan detailing the level of access you want your fiduciary to have to your digital accounts. For example, do you want your fiduciary to be allowed to view your emails, photos, and social media posts before passing them on or deleting them? If there are any assets you want to limit access to, we can help you include the necessary provisions in your plan to ensure your privacy is respected.

4. Include relevant hardware: 

Don’t forget to include the physical devices—smartphones, computers, tablets—upon which your digital assets are stored in your plan. Having quick access to these devices will make it much easier for your fiduciary to manage your digital assets. And since the data can be transferred or deleted, you can even leave these devices to someone other than the individual who inherits the digital property stored on them.

5. Review service providers’ access-authorization functions:

Some service providers like Google, Facebook, and Instagram allow you to give specific individuals access to your accounts upon your death. Review the terms of service for your accounts, and if these functions are available, use them to document who you want to access your accounts.

Double check that the people you named to inherit your digital assets using these access-authorization tools match those you’ve named in your estate plan. If not, the provider will likely give priority to the person named with its tool, not your plan.

Keep pace with technology

As technology evolves, you’ll need to adapt your estate plan to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of your assets. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we know just how valuable your online property can be, and our planning strategies are specifically designed to ensure these assets are preserved and passed on seamlessly in the event of your death or incapacity. Contact us today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

4 Tips For Talking About Estate Planning With Your Family Over the Holidays

With COVID-19 still raging, your 2020 holiday season may not feature the big family get-togethers of years past, but you’ll still likely be visiting with loved ones in some fashion, whether via video chat or in smaller groups. And though the holidays are always a good time to bring up estate planning, given the ongoing pandemic, talking about these issues is particularly urgent this time around.

That said, asking your dad about his end-of-life wishes while he’s watching football isn’t the best way to broach the subject. In order to make the talk as productive as possible, consider the following four tips.


1. Set aside a time and place to talk

Discussing planning while opening Christmas gifts most likely won’t be very productive. Your best bet is to schedule a time, when you can all gather to talk without distractions or interruptions.

Be upfront with your family about the meeting’s purpose, so no one is taken by surprise and people come prepared for the talk. Choose a setting that’s comfortable, quiet, and private. The more relaxed everyone is, the more likely they’ll be comfortable opening up.

2. Create an agenda, and set a start and stop time

Create a list of the most important points you want to cover, and do your best to stick to them. You should encourage open conversation, but having a list of items you want to cover can help ensure you don’t forget anything.

Also, set a start and stop time for the conversation. This will help keep the discussion on track and prevent people from veering too far off topic. If anything important comes up that’s not on the list, you can always continue the discussion later. Remember, the goal is to simply get the conversation started, not work out all of the details or dollar amounts.

3. Explain why planning is important

Assure everyone that the conversation isn’t about prying into anyone’s finances, health, or relationships—it’s about providing for the family’s future security and wellbeing no matter what happens. It’s about ensuring everyone’s wishes are clearly understood and honored, not about finding out how much money someone stands to inherit.

Talking about these issues is also a good way to avoid future conflict and expense. When family members don’t clearly understand the reasoning behind one another’s planning choices, it’s likely to breed conflict, resentment, and even costly legal battles.

4. Discuss your planning experience

If you’ve already created your plan, start the talk by explaining the planning documents you have in place and why you chose them. If you’ve worked with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, describe how the process unfolded and how we supported you to create a plan designed for your unique wishes and needs.

Mention any questions or concerns you initially had about planning and how we worked with you to address them. If you have loved ones who’ve yet to do any planning and have doubts about its usefulness, discuss their concerns in a sympathetic and supportive manner, sharing how you dealt with similar issues whenever possible.

If you have not yet worked with us on your estate plan, consider watching this brief training that discusses what you need to do, what you can do yourself, and what you need a lawyer to help you with. You may even want to watch it with your family, and outline the actions steps together. And if one of your action steps is to enlist the support of a lawyer to get your planning done, call us for a Family Wealth Planning Session™.

For the love of your family

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide and support you in having these intimate discussions with your loved ones. When done right, planning can put your life and relationships into a much clearer focus and offer peace of mind knowing that the people you love most will be protected and provided for no matter what. Contact us today to learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Estate Planning Lawyer—Part 2

Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services the lawyer offers and how they run their business.

To gather this information and get a better feel for who the individual is at the human level, we suggest you ask the prospective lawyer five key questions. Last week in part one, we listed the first two of these questions, and here, we cover the final three.


​ 3. How will you proactively communicate with me on an ongoing basis?

The sad truth is most lawyers do a terrible job of staying in regular communication with their clients. Unfortunately, most lawyers don’t have their business systems set up for ongoing, proactive communication, and they don’t have the time to really get to know you or your family.

If you work with a lawyer who doesn’t have systems in place to keep your plan updated, ensure your assets are owned in the right way (throughout your life), and communicate with you regularly, your estate plan will be worth little more than one you could create for yourself online—and it’s likely to fail when your family needs it most.

Think of it this way: Yes, your estate plan is a set of documents. But more importantly, it’s who and what your family will turn to when something happens to you. You want to work with a lawyer who has systems in place to keep your documents up to date and to ensure your assets are owned in the right way throughout your lifetime. Ideally, the lawyer should get to know you and your family over time, so when something happens, your lawyer can be there for the people you love, and there will already be an underlying relationship and trust.

Your lawyer should proactively communicate with you and keep you and your family educated on an ongoing basis. We think sending out a weekly (at least) email is best. I prefer to hear from the professionals with whom I work on a monthly basis by regular mail and on a weekly basis by email, but depending on the relationship, it could be even more frequent than that.

If you are considering hiring a lawyer who doesn’t take the time to proactively communicate with his or her clients, this should be a red flag. That’s a sign that the lawyer may be stuck in an old, outdated mindset that won’t address your ongoing needs in the way you deserve.

4. Can I call about any legal problem I have, or just about matters within your specialty?

Given the complexity of today’s legal world, lawyers must have specialized training in one or more specific practice areas, such as divorce, bankruptcy, wills and trusts, personal injury, business, criminal matters, or employment law. You definitely do NOT want to work with a lawyer who professes to be an expert in whatever random legal issue walks through the door.

That said, you do want your personal lawyer to have broad enough expertise that you can consult with him or her about all sorts of different legal and financial issues that may come up in your life—and trust he or she will be able to offer you sound guidance. Moreover, while your lawyer may not be able to advise you on all legal matters, he or she should at least be able to refer to you to another trusted professional who can help you.

Trust me, you wouldn’t want the lawyer who designed your estate plan to also handle your personal injury claim, settle a dispute with your landlord, and advise you on your divorce. But you do want him or her to be there to hear your story, refer you to a highly qualified lawyer who specializes in that area, and overall, serve as your go-to legal consultant.

In this capacity, you can call your personal lawyer before you sign any legal documents, any time you have a legal or financial issue arise, or whenever anything that might adversely affect your family or business comes up, and know that you’ll get excellent guidance.

With this in mind, look for a lawyer who has an ongoing service program or membership program, in which you can pay a low monthly fee and be able to call with all of your legal and financial questions, without being charged hourly for the consultation. And be sure that when you call, you get to schedule time to talk with your own lawyer, who you know and trust. We love the idea of legal insurance plans, but we don’t love that you don’t get your own personal lawyer with them. You need to know your lawyer, and know that your lawyer has your back.

5. What happens if you die or retire?

This is a critically important—and often overlooked—question to ask not only your lawyer, but any service professional before beginning a relationship. Sure, it may be uncomfortable to ask, but a truly excellent, client-centered professional will have a plan in place to ensure their clients are taken care of no matter what happens to the individual lawyer managing your plan.

Look for a lawyer who has their own detailed plan in place that will ensure that someone warm and caring will take over your planning without any interruption of service. If your lawyer prepared a will, trust, and other estate planning documents for you, or if you are in the middle of a divorce or lawsuit, you want to make certain your lawyer has such a contingency plan in place, so you won’t be forced to start over from scratch should your lawyer die, retire, or become otherwise unavailable.

Finally, if your lawyer offers a membership program, you’ll want to make sure he or she has a relationship with another lawyer or a network of lawyers who can continue to service you under that program.

A Lasting Relationship

Although hiring the right estate planning lawyer may not seem like a super important decision, it’s actually one of the most critical choices you can make for both yourself and your family. After all, this is the individual you are trusting to serve on your behalf to protect and provide for your loved ones in the event of life’s most traumatic experiences.

Should you choose the wrong person for the job, your family could potentially face all manner of unnecessary conflicts, expenses, and legal entanglements during a time when they are at their most vulnerable. In the end, estate planning is about far more than having a lawyer create a set of documents for you, and then never seeing you again, or only seeing you when something goes wrong.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we develop a relationship with you and with your family that lasts not only for your lifetime, but for the lifetime of your children and their children, if that’s your wish. Our unique, family-centered legal services are specifically tailored to provide our clients with the kind of love, attention, and trust we’d want for our own loved ones.

To learn Schedule Online more about our one-of-a-kind systems and services, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today.

5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Estate Planning Lawyer—Part 1

Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services your potential lawyer offers and how they run their business.

To this end, here are five questions to ask to ensure you don’t end up paying for legal services that you don’t need, expect, or want. Once you know exactly what you should be looking for when choosing a planning professional, you’ll be much better positioned to hire an attorney who will provide the kind of love, attention, care, and trust your family deserves.


1. How do you bill for your services?

There’s no reason you should be afraid to ask a lawyer how he or she bills for the work they do on your behalf. In fact, questions about billing and payment should be among the very first subjects you bring up when you first contact them. No one wants surprises, especially when it comes to the bill.

If you call a lawyer’s office and they are reluctant or refuse to give you clear answers to questions about how they charge for their services, determine your fees, or what they expect certain services will cost, this is a big red flag. When someone is hesitant to discuss their billing or business practices, you could be in for some major surprises about what things cost down the road.

Find an estate planning lawyer who bills for all of their services on a flat-fee, no surprises, basis—and never on an hourly basis—unless it’s required by the court for limited purposes. And ideally, you want a lawyer who will guide you through a process of discovery in which they learn about your family dynamics, your assets, and they educate you about what would happen for your family and to your assets if and when something happens to you, and then support you in choosing the right plan for you that meets your budget and your desired outcomes.

Our process for your planning begins with a Family Wealth Planning Session™, in which we educate you about the law and you educate us about your family dynamics and assets, and then you choose the right plan, at the right cost, for the people you love.

2. How will you respond to my needs on an ongoing basis?

One of the biggest complaints people have about working with lawyers is that they are notoriously unresponsive. Indeed, I’ve heard of cases in which clients went weeks without getting a call back from their lawyer. This is all too common, but totally unacceptable, especially when you’re paying them big bucks.

That said, in most cases, these lawyers aren’t blowing you off—they simply don’t have enough support or the systems in place to be able to be responsive. Far too many lawyers believe they can take care of everything themselves. From paperwork and client meetings to scheduling and returning phone calls to connecting their clients with other advisors, there are just too many responsibilities for one person to manage all on their own.

The truth is, if a lawyer is a complete solo practitioner without support or works for a firm that doesn’t provide adequate support, sooner or later, they are almost certain to become overwhelmed and unresponsive. Given this, it’s vital that you ask your lawyer about how they will respond to your needs if you decide to become their client.

Ask them how quickly calls are typically returned in their office, ask them if there will be someone on-hand to answer quick questions, and ask them how they will support you to keep your plan up to date on an ongoing basis and be there for your loved one’s when you can’t be.

A great way to test this is to call your prospective lawyer’s office and ask for him or her. If you get put through right away—or even worse, your call gets sent to a full voicemail—think twice about hiring this lawyer. This means they don’t have effective systems in place for managing and responding to calls or answering quick questions.

Instead, what you want is for the person who answers the phone—or another team member—to offer to help you. And if that individual cannot help you, then he or she should schedule a call for you to talk with your lawyer at a future date and time.

Your lawyer simply can’t be effective or efficient if he or she is taking every call that comes through. Ideally, all calls to your lawyer should be pre-scheduled with a clear agenda, so you both can be ready to focus on your specific needs.

Later in part two, we’ll talk more about the ways in which your attorney should communicate with you and list the remaining three questions to ask before hiring your estate planning lawyer.

Remarrying In Midlife? Avoid Accidently Disinheriting Your Loved Ones

​Today, we’re seeing more and more people getting divorced in middle age and beyond. Indeed, the trend of couples getting divorced after age 50 has grown so common, it’s even garnered its own nickname: “gray divorce.”

Today, roughly one in four divorces involve those over 50, and divorce rates for this demographic have doubled in the past 30 years, according to the study Gray Divorce Revolution. For those over age 65, divorce rates have tripled.

With divorce coming so late in life, the financial fallout can be quite devastating. Indeed, Bloomberg.com found that the standard of living for women who divorce after age 50 drops by some 45%, while it falls roughly 21% for men. Given the significant decrease in income and the fact people are living longer than ever, it’s no surprise that many of these folks also choose to get remarried.

And those who do get remarried frequently bring one or more children from previous marriages into the new union, which gives rise to an increasing number of blended families. Regardless of age or marital status, all adults over age 18 should have some basic estate planning in place, but for those with blended families, estate planning is particularly vital.

In fact, those with blended families who have yet to create a plan or fail to update their existing plan following remarriage are putting themselves at major risk for accidentally disinheriting their loved ones. Such planning mistakes are almost always unintentional, yet what may seem like a simple oversight can lead to terrible consequences.

Here, we’ll use three different hypothetical scenarios to discuss how a failure to update your estate plan after a midlife remarriage has the potential to accidently disinherit your closest family members, as well as deplete your assets down to virtually nothing. From there, we’ll look at how these negative outcomes can be easily avoided using a variety of different planning solutions.

Scenario #1: Accidentally disinheriting your children from a previous marriage

John has two adult children, David and Alexis, from a prior marriage. He marries Moira, who has one adult child, Patrick. The blended family gets along well, and because he trusts Moira will take care of his children in the event of his death, John’s estate plan leaves everything to Moira.

After just two years being married, John dies suddenly of a heart attack, and his nearly $1.4 million in assets go to Moira. Moira is extremely distraught following John’s death, and although she planned to update her plan to include David and Alexis, she never gets around to it, and dies just a year after John. Upon her death, all of the assets she brought into the marriage, along with all of John’s assets, pass to Moira’s son Patrick, while David and Alexis receive nothing.

By failing to update his estate plan to ensure that David and Alexis are taken care of, John left the responsibility for what happens to his assets entirely to Moira. Whether intentionally or accidentally, Moira’s failure to include David and Alexis in her own plan resulted in them being entirely disinherited from their father’s estate.

There are several planning options John could’ve used to avoid this outcome. He could have created a revocable living trust that named an independent successor trustee to manage the distribution of his assets upon his death to ensure a more equitable division of his estate between his spouse and children. Or, he could have created two separate trusts, one for Moira and one for his children, in which John specified exactly what assets each individual received. He might have also taken advantage of tax-free gifts to his two children during his lifetime.

Whichever option he ultimately decided on, if John had consulted an experienced estate planning attorney like us, he could have ensured that his children would have been taken care of in the manner he desired.

Scenario #2: Accidentally disinheriting your spouse

Mark was married to Gwen for 30 years, and they had three children together, all of whom are now adults. When their kids were young, Mark and Gwen both created wills, in which they named each other as their sole beneficiaries. When they were both in their 50s, and their kids had grown, Bob and Gwen divorced.

Several years later, at age 60, Bob married Veronica, a widow with no children of her own. Bob was very healthy, so he didn’t make updating his estate plan a priority. But within a year of his new marriage, Bob died suddenly in a car accident.

Bob’s estate plan, written several decades ago, leaves all of his assets to ex-wife Gwen, or, if she is not living at the time of his death, to his children. State law presumes that Gwen has predeceased Bob because they divorced after the will was enacted. Thus, all of Bob’s assets, including the house he and Veronica were living in, pass to his children. Veronica receives nothing, and is forced out of her home when Bob’s children sell it.

By failing to update his estate plan to reflect his current situation, Bob unintentionally disinherited Veronica and forced her into a precarious financial position just as she was entering retirement. If Bob had worked with an estate planning attorney to create a living trust, he could have arranged his assets so they would go to, and work for, exactly the people he wanted them to benefit.

For example, if he wanted the bulk of his assets to go to his children, but didn’t want to cause any disruption to Veronica’s life, he could have put his house, along with funds for its maintenance, into the trust for her benefit during her lifetime, and left the remainder of his assets to his kids. This would allow Veronica to live in and use the house as her own for the rest of her life, but upon her death, the house would pass to Bob’s children.

Scenario #3: Allowing Assets to Become Depleted
Steve is a divorcee in his early 60s with two adult children when he marries Susan. Steve has an estate valued at around $850,000, and he has told his kids that after he passes away, he hopes they will use the money that’s left to fund college accounts for their own children. But he also wants to ensure Susan is cared for, so he establishes a living trust in which he leaves all his assets to Susan, and upon her death, the remainder to his two children.

Yet, soon after Steve dies, Susan suffers a debilitating stroke. She requires round-the-clock in-home care for several decades, which is paid for by Steve’s trust. When she does pass away, the trust has been almost totally depleted, and Steve’s children inherit virtually nothing.

An experienced estate planning attorney like us could have helped Steve avoid this unfortunate outcome. Steve could have stipulated in his living trust that a certain portion of his assets must go to his children upon his death, while the remainder passed to Susan.

Additionally, Steve might have used life insurance to provide cash for Susan’s care upon his death, or he could have purchased a second-to-die life insurance policy for himself and Susan, naming his children as beneficiaries. Such a policy would ensure that regardless of the amount remaining in the trust, Steve’s children would receive an inheritance upon Susan’s death.

Bringing families together

Along with other major life events like births, deaths, and divorce, enteringinto a second (or more) marriage requires you to review and rework your estate plan. And updating your plan is exponentially more important when there are children involved in your new union.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we are specifically trained to work with blended families, ensuring that you and your new spouse can clearly document your wishes to avoid any confusion or conflict over how the assets and legal agency will be passed on in the event of one spouse’s death or incapacity.

If you have a blended family, or are in the process of merging two families into one, contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, today to discuss all of your options.

6 Things You Should NOT Include In Your Will

A will is one of the most basic estate planning tools. While relying solely on a will is rarely a suitable option for most people, just about every estate plan includes this key document in one form or another.

A will is used to designate how you want your assets distributed to your surviving loved ones upon your death. If you die without a will, state law governs how your assets are distributed, which may or may not be in line with your wishes.

That said, not all assets can (or should) be included in your will. For this reason, it’s important for you to understand which assets you should put in your will and which assets you should include in other planning documents like trusts.


While you should always consult with an experienced planning professional like us when creating your will, here are a few of the different types of assets that should not be included in your will.

1. Assets with a right of survivorship: 

A will only covers assets solely owned in your name. Therefore, property held in joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, and community property with the right of survivorship, bypass your will. These types of assets automatically pass to the surviving co-owner(s) when you die, so leaving your share to someone else in your will would have no effect. If you want someone other than your co-owner to receive your share of the asset upon your death, you will need to change title to the asset as part of your estate planning process.

2. Assets held in a trust:

Assets held by a trust automatically pass to the named beneficiary upon your death or incapacity and cannot be passed through your will. This includes assets held by both revocable “living” trusts and irrevocable trusts.

In contrast, assets included in a will must first pass through the court process known as probate before they can be transferred to the intended beneficiaries. To avoid the time, expense, and potential conflict associated with probate, trusts are typically a more effective way to pass assets to your loved ones compared to wills.

However, because it can be difficult to transfer all of your assets into a trust before your death, even if your plan includes a trust, you’ll still need to create what’s known as a “pour-over” will. With a pour-over will in place, all assets not held by the trust upon your death are transferred, or “poured,” into your trust through the probate process.

Meet with us for guidance on the most suitable planning tools and strategies for passing your assets to your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity.

3. Assets with a designated beneficiary: 

Several different types of assets allow you to name a beneficiary to inherit the asset upon your death. In these cases, when you die, the asset passes directly to the individual, organization, or institution you designated as beneficiary, without the need for any additional planning.

The following are some of the most common assets with beneficiary designations, and therefore, such assets should not be included in your will:

  • Retirement accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, and pensions
  • Life insurance or annuity proceeds
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Transfer-on-death property, such as bonds, stocks, vehicles, and real estate

4. Certain types of digital assets:

Given the unique nature of digital assets, you’ll need to make special plans for your digital assets outside of your will. Indeed, a will may not be the best option for passing certain digital assets to your heirs. And in some cases—including Kindle e-books and iTunes music files—it may not even be legally possible to transfer the asset via a will, because you never actually owned the asset in the first place—you merely owned a license to use it.

What’s more, some types of social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, have special functions that allow you to grant certain individuals access and/or control of your account upon your death, so a will wouldn’t be of any use. Always check the terms of service for the company’s specific guidelines for managing your account upon your death.

Regardless of the type of digital asset involved, NEVER include the account numbers, logins, or passwords in your will, which becomes public record upon your death and can be easily read by others. Instead, keep this information in a separate, secure location, and provide your fiduciary with instructions about how to access it.

5. Your pet and money for its care: 

Because animals are considered personal property under the law, you cannot name a pet as a beneficiary in your will. If you do, whatever money you leave it would go to your residuary beneficiary (the individual who gets everything not specifically left to your other named beneficiaries), who would have no obligation to care for your pet.

It’s also not a good idea to use your will to leave your pet and money for its care to a future caregiver. That’s because the person you name as beneficiary would have no legal obligation to use the funds to care for your pet. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all of the money and drop off your furry friend at the local shelter.

The best way to ensure your pet gets the love and attention it deserves following your death or incapacity is by creating a pet trust. We can help you set up, fund, and maintain such a trust, so your furry family member will be properly cared for when you’re gone.

6. Money for the care of a person with special needs: 

There are a number of unique considerations that must be taken into account when planning for the care of an individual with special needs. In fact, you can easily disqualify someone with special needs for much-needed government benefits if you don’t use the proper planning strategies. To this end, a will is not a suitable way to pass on money for the care of a person with special needs.

Given this, you should always work with an experienced planning lawyer like us to create a special needs trust. We can make certain that upon your death, the individual would have the financial means they need to live a full life, without jeopardizing their access to government benefits.

Don’t take any chances

Although creating a will may seem fairly simple, it’s always best to consult with an experienced planning professional to ensure the document is properly created, executed, and maintained. And as we’ve seen here, there are also many scenarios in which a will won’t be the right planning option, nor would a will keep your family and assets out of court.With this in mind, you should meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to discuss your specific planning needs, so we can find the right combination of planning solutions to ensure your loved ones are protected and provided for no matter what. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ today to get started.

Getting Divorced? Don’t Overlook These 4 Updates to Your Estate Plan—Part 2

Going through divorce can be an overwhelming experience that impacts nearly every facet of your life, including estate planning. Yet, with so much to deal with during the divorce process, many people forget to update their plan or put it off until it’s too late.

Failing to update your plan before, during, and after your divorce can have a number of potentially tragic consequences, some of which you’ve likely not considered—and in most cases, you can’t rely on your divorce lawyer to bring them up. If you are in the midst of a divorce, and your divorce lawyer has not brought up estate planning, there are several things you need to know. First off, you need to update your estate plan, not only after your divorce is final, but as soon as you know a split is inevitable.

Here’s why: until your divorce is final, your marriage is legally in full effect. This means if you die or become incapacitated while your divorce is ongoing and haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be ex-spouse could end up with complete control over your life and assets. And that’s generally not a good idea, nor what you would want.


Given that you’re ending the relationship, you probably wouldn’t want him or her having that much power, and if that’s the case, you must take action. While state laws can limit your ability to make certain changes to your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, there are a handful of important updates you should consider making as soon as divorce is on the horizon.

Last week in part one, we discussed the first two changes you should make to your plan: updating your beneficiary designations and power of attorney documents. Here in part two, we’ll cover the final updates to consider.

3. Create a new will

Creating a new will is not something that can wait until after your divorce. In fact, you should create a new will as soon as you decide to get divorced, since once divorce papers are filed, you may not be able to change your will. And because most married couples name each other as their executor and the beneficiary of their estate, it’s important to name a new person to fill these roles as well.When creating a new will, rethink how you want your assets divided upon your death. This most likely means naming new beneficiaries for any assets that you’d previously left to your future ex and his or her family. Keep in mind that some states have community-property laws that entitle your surviving spouse to a certain percentage of the marital estate upon your death, no matter what your will dictates. So if you die before the divorce is final, you probably won’t be able to entirely disinherit your surviving spouse through the new will.

Yet, it’s almost certain you wouldn’t want him or her to get everything. With this in mind, you should create your new will as soon as possible once divorce is inevitable to ensure the proper individuals inherit the remaining percentage of your estate should you pass away while your divorce is still ongoing.

Should you choose not to create a new will during the divorce process, don’t assume that your old will is automatically revoked once the divorce is final. State laws vary widely in regards to how divorce affects a will. In some states, your will is revoked by default upon divorce. In others, unless it’s officially revoked, your entire will —including all provisions benefiting your ex— remains valid even after the divorce is final.

With such diverse laws, it’s vital to consult with us as soon as you know divorce is coming. We can help you understand our state’s laws and how to best navigate them when creating your new will—whether you do so before or after your divorce is complete.

4. Amend your existing trust or create a new one

If you have a revocable living trust set up, you’ll want to review and update it, too. Like wills, the laws governing if, when, and how you can alter a trust during a divorce can vary, so you should consult us as soon as possible if you are considering divorce. In addition to reconsidering what assets your soon-to-be-ex spouse should receive through the trust, you’ll probably want to replace him or her as successor trustee, if they are so designated.

And if you don’t have a trust in place, you should seriously consider creating one, especially if you have minor children. Trusts provide a wide range of powers and benefits unavailable through a will, and they’re particularly well-suited for blended families. Given the likelihood that both you and your spouse will eventually get remarried—and perhaps have more children—trusts are an invaluable way to protect and manage the assets you want your children to inherit.

By using a trust, for example, should you die or become incapacitated while your kids are minors, you can name someone of your choosing to serve as successor trustee to manage their money until they reach adulthood, making it impossible for your ex to meddle with their inheritance.

Beyond this key benefit, trusts afford you several other levels of enhanced protection and control not possible with a will. For this reason, you should at least discuss creating a trust with an experienced lawyer like us before ruling out the option entirely.

Post-divorce planning

During the divorce process, your primary planning goal is limiting your soon-to-be ex’s control over your life and assets should you die or become incapacitated before divorce is final. In light of this, the individuals to whom you grant power of attorney, name as trustee, designate to receive your 401k, or add to your plan in any other way while the divorce is ongoing are often just temporary.Once your divorce is final and your marital property has been divided up, you should revisit all of your planning documents and update them based on your new asset profile and living situation. From there, your plan should continuously evolve as your life changes, especially following major life events, such as getting remarried, having additional children, and when close family members pass away.

Get started now

Going through a divorce is never easy, but it’s vital that you make the time to update your estate plan during this trying time. Meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to review your plan immediately upon realizing that divorce is unavoidable, and then schedule a follow-up visit once your divorce is finalized.Putting off updating your plan, even for a few days, as you are in the process of a divorce can make it legally impossible to change certain parts of your plan, so act now. And if you’ve yet to create any estate plan at all, an upcoming divorce is the perfect time to finally take care of this vital responsibility. Contact us today to learn more.

Getting Divorced? Don’t Overlook These 4 Updates to Your Estate Plan—Part 1

Going through divorce can be an overwhelming experience that impacts nearly every facet of your life, including estate planning. Yet, with so much to deal with during the divorce process, many people forget to update their plan or put it off until it’s too late.

Failing to update your plan for divorce can have a number of potentially tragic consequences, some of which you’ve likely not considered—and in most cases, you can’t rely on your divorce lawyer to bring them up. If you are in the midst of a divorce, and your divorce lawyer has not brought up estate planning, there are several things you need to know. First off, you need to update your estate plan, not only after your divorce is final, but as soon as you know a split is inevitable.

Here’s why: until your divorce is final, your marriage is legally in full effect. This means if you die or become incapacitated while your divorce is ongoing and haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be ex-spouse could end up with complete control over your life and assets. And that’s generally not a good idea, nor what you would want.


Given that you’re ending the relationship, you probably wouldn’t want him or her having that much power, and if that’s the case, you must take action. While state laws can limit your ability to make certain changes to your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, here are a few of the most important updates you should consider making as soon as divorce is on the horizon.

1. Update your power of attorney documents

If you were to become incapacitated by illness or injury during your divorce, the very person you are paying big money to legally remove from your life would be granted complete authority over all of your legal, financial, and medical decisions. Given this, it’s vital that you update your power of attorney documents as soon as you know divorce is coming.

Your estate plan should include both a durable financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. A durable financial power of attorney allows you to grant an individual of your choice the legal authority to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf should you become unable to make such decisions for yourself. Similarly, a medical power of attorney grants someone the legal authority to make your healthcare decisions in the event of your incapacity.

Without such planning documents in place, your spouse has priority to make financial and legal decisions for you. And since most people typically name their spouse as their decision maker in these documents, it’s critical to take action—even before you begin the divorce process—and grant this authority to someone else, especially if things are anything less than amicable between the two of you.

Once divorce is a sure thing, don’t wait—immediately contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to support you in getting these documents updated. We recommend you don’t rely on your divorce lawyer to update these documents for you, unless he or she is an expert in estate planning, as there can be many details in these documents that can be overlooked by a lawyer using a standard form, rather than the documents we will prepare for you.

2. Update your beneficiary designations

As soon as you know you are getting divorced, update beneficiary designations for assets that do not pass through a will or trust, such as bank accounts, life insurance policies, and retirement plans. Failing to change your beneficiaries can cause serious trouble down the road.For example, if you get remarried following your divorce, but haven’t changed the beneficiary of your 401(k) plan to name your new spouse, the ex you divorced 15 years ago could end up with your retirement account upon your death. And due to restrictions on changing beneficiary designations after a divorce is filed, the timing of your beneficiary change is particularly critical.

In most states, once either spouse files divorce papers with the court, neither party can legally change their beneficiaries without the other’s permission until the divorce is final. With this in mind, if you’re anticipating a divorce, you may want to consider changing your beneficiaries prior to filing divorce papers, and then post-divorce you can always change them again to match whatever is determined in the divorce settlement.

If your divorce is already filed, consult with us and your divorce lawyer to see if changing beneficiaries is legal in your state—and also whether it’s in your best interest. Finally, if naming new beneficiaries is not an option for you now, once the divorce is finalized it should be your number-one priority. In fact, put it on your to-do list right now!

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the estate-planning updates you should make when getting divorced.

Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman Dies Without A Will—Part 2

On October 15th, nearly two months after the death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, filed documents with the Los Angeles probate court seeking to be named administrator of his estate. Earlier this year, Boseman and Ledward were married, and the marriage gives Ledward the right to any assets held in Boseman’s name at his death.

Boseman died at age 43 on August 28th following a four-year battle with colon cancer, and based on the court documents, it seems the young actor died without a will. While Boseman’s failure to create a will is surprising, he’s far from the first celebrity to do so. In fact, numerous big-name stars—Aretha Franklin, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix—all made the same mistake. ​


What makes Boseman’s story somewhat unique from the others is that it seems likely the young actor put some estate planning tools in place, but it’s possible he didn’t quite finish the job. Based on the number of hit films he starred in and how much he earned for those films, several sources have noted that Boseman’s assets at the time of his death should have been worth far more than the approximately $939,000 listed in probate court documents.

So what happened to the rest of Bosman’s wealth? Seeing that his death wasn’t a surprise, some commentators have suggested that the bulk of Boseman’s assets passed through private trusts. But if that’s the case, why didn’t he also have a will, which would almost always be created alongside trusts?

Last week in part one, we discussed a few potential explanations for this apparent blind spot in Boseman’s estate plan, and how the young actor might have prevented the situation by creating a pour-over will to be used as a backup to any trusts he had put in place. Here in part two, we’ll focus on another critical component of Boseman’s estate plan—incapacity planning.

Protecting your assets is only the start

While it was critical for Boseman to create planning vehicles to ensure the proper distribution of his assets upon his death, that’s just part of the overall planning he needed. The young actor also needed to plan for his potential incapacity—and given that he had cancer, the need for comprehensive incapacity planning would have been exponentially vital.

Regardless of his age or health condition, Boseman, like all adults over 18 years old, should have three essential planning documents in place to protect against potential incapacity from illness or injury. These include a medical power of attorney, living will, and durable financial power of attorney.

Should you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs, these planning tools would give the individuals of your choice the immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. If prepared properly, these documents can even allow your family to engage in planning that would support your eligibility for government healthcare benefits support, if needed. Finally, such documents would also provide clear guidance about how your medical care and treatment should be carried out, particularly at end-of-life.

If you were to become incapacitated without such planning tools in place, your family would have to destitute your estate before you could claim governmental support for your medical care. Your loved ones would also have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs, which can be extremely costly, time consuming, and even traumatic.

Seeing that Boseman was suffering from end-stage colon cancer, such planning tools for incapacity would have been an absolutely critical part of his plan. And while we don’t know for sure if he had such documents in place, given that he died peacefully at home surrounded by his friends and loved ones, it seems more than likely that he did.

No one here gets out alive

As Boseman’s death illustrates, even superheroes need to plan for the future. Death and illness can strike any of us at any time. And regardless of how much money you have, you need a comprehensive estate plan in place, not only to protect and pass on your material assets to your loved ones when you die, but also to ensure you’ll be properly cared for in the event of your incapacity from illness or injury.

Whether you already have a plan created or nothing at all, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to discuss the specific planning strategies best suited for your particular situation. With us on your side, you’ll have access to the same planning tools and protections that A-list celebrities use, which are designed to keep your family out of court or conflict no matter what happens. Contact us today to learn more.

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