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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.

Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman Dies Without A Will—Part 1

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?

We may never know, but you can learn from Boseman’s death and the experience of his wife, Taylor, so you can make the choice to keep your family out of the court process and the public eye, if that’s what you desire for the people you love.

A role model for millions

In addition to starring as Marvel Studio’s first African-American superhero, Boseman was famous for playing a number of real-life African-American heroes during his career. His most notable roles included portraying baseball great Jackie Robinson in 42, legendary musician James Brown in Get On Up, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in Marshall.

Boseman continued to work on multiple movies, even after being diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2016. Highly protective of his private life, the young star kept his illness a secret from everyone, except for a few friends and family members. His death was a shock not only to his millions of fans, but also his close colleagues.

Indeed, even Black Panther director Ryan Coogler and Da 5 Bloods director Spike Lee reportedly had no idea Boseman was fighting cancer. And Marvel boss Kevin Feige only learned about his diagnosis on the day the actor died.

Boseman and Ledward, a singer who graduated from California State Polytechnic University, started dating in 2015, about a year before his cancer diagnosis. The couple were engaged in October 2019, and were reportedly married in a secret ceremony a few months before he died. Besides his wife, Boseman leaves behind his parents, Leroy and Carolyn Boseman, and two brothers, Derrick and Kevin Boseman. Neither Boseman nor Ledward have children.

A planning blind spot

Based on court documents, the value of Boseman’s estate subject to probate is $938,500. Yet according to Celebrity Net Worth and other similar sources, Boseman’s total estate was worth much more than that at the time of his death—an estimated $12 million. Given this, it may be that the bulk of the actor’s assets were held in trusts, which aren’t available to the public, and are being handled privately through his attorneys.

Since the majority of Boseman’s estate is not subject to probate, he likely did put a fairly extensive estate plan in place to protect and pass on his financial wealth and other assets to his loved ones. Even so, the fact that he left roughly $1 million in assets unprotected would have been a glaring blind spot in his plan, and this has us curious about what Boseman’s lawyers were thinking, and whether Boseman was properly informed and educated about his planning decisions before his death. Unfortunately, many people, even those who work with fancy lawyers, do not understand their planning decisions, and their family must deal with the resulting consequences when it’s too late.

Because Boseman allegedly died without a will, called intestate, California law governs the distribution of any assets titled in Boseman’s name at the time of his death. Under the state’s intestate succession rules, his surviving spouse is entitled to inherit his estate, and she also has priority to serve as his estate’s administrator. Given the law, it’s almost certain the court will grant Ledward’s request to be appointed administrator of his estate and award her the entirety of the assets titled in his name at the time of his death.

As it stands now, Boseman’s wife must go through the court process known as probate to claim her husband’s remaining assets. This not only requires her to go through what could be lengthy court proceedings, but it also opens up her husband’s estate—and her future inheritance—to the public eye, which is something we imagine Boseman would have wanted to avoid.

There is one alternative possibility, which is total speculation on our part, that perhaps there was a will, maybe even created before the 2020 marriage, and the family all agreed not to file it with the court given the marriage and whatever the family may have known about Boseman’s wishes to benefit Ledward. Finally, we also wonder if there is any possibility that the probate was specifically opened to cut off any future creditor claims against the estate. Once the probate is closed, no creditors will ever be able to come after Boseman’s estate in the future.

Trusts with a backup

Given that Boseman likely used trusts to protect most of his assets, we would have recommended Boseman place all of his assets in trusts—either revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, or a combination of the two. By doing so, upon his death, those assets would immediately transfer to whomever he named as beneficiaries without the need for court intervention. Moreover, such transfers would happen in private, without Boseman’s assets or his loved one’s being scrutinized in the public eye. Indeed, this is what’s likely happening to the balance of Boseman’s assets that were not listed in court documents.

If trusts were used, we would have expected to see a document called a “pour-over will” created alongside Boseman’s trusts. Because it’s not practical to put some types of assets, such as vehicles, into a trust, and it can be challenging to move every single asset into a trust before you pass away, the pour-over will acts as a backup, and we always include a pour-over will with the estate plans we create for our clients.

Unlike a traditional will, which is used on its own to distribute your entire estate to your beneficiaries upon your death, a pour-over will works in conjunction with a trust. 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. From there, those assets are distributed to your beneficiaries as spelled out by the trust’s terms.

Had Boseman created a pour-over will, the remaining $938,500 worth of assets in his estate would have been transferred into a trust and distributed to his family under the terms he laid out in the trust.

Yet, while a pour-over will allows assets not held in trust to be transferred into a trust following your death, the property that passes through the pour-over will must still go through probate.
To this end, a pour-over will should primarily be used as a backup to a trust, and you should do your best to transfer, or fund, all of your most valuable assets to the trust while you are still alive.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll not only help you create the right trusts to hold your assets, we’ll also ensure that your assets are properly funded to your trust throughout your lifetime, which is a service few other lawyers offer.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two of this series on the estate planning lessons to learn from Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death. 

Start Planning Now to Prepare Your Estate for a Possible Democratic Sweep—Part 2

No matter who you vote for on November 3rd, you may want to start considering the potential legal, financial, and tax impacts a change of leadership might have on your family’s planning. As you’ll learn here, there are a number of reasons why you may want to start strategizing now if you could be impacted, because if you wait until after the election, it could be too late.

While we don’t yet know the outcome of the election, Biden could win and the Democrats could take a majority in both houses of Congress. If that does happen, a Democratic sweep would have far-reaching consequences on a number of policy fronts. But in terms of financial, tax, and estate planning, it’s almost certain that we’ll see radical changes to the tax landscape that could seriously impact your planning priorities. And while it’s unlikely that a tax bill would be enacted right away, there’s always the possibility such legislation could be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2021.


This two-part series is aimed at outlining the major ways Biden plans to change tax laws, so you can adapt your family’s planning considerations accordingly. Last week in part one, we detailed Biden’s plan to raise roughly $4 trillion in revenue by implementing a variety of measures designed to increase taxes on individuals earning more than $400,000.

Specifically, we discussed the former Vice President’s proposals to increase the top personal income tax rate and capital-gain’s tax rates, reinstitute the Social Security tax on higher incomes, and reduce the federal gift and estate-tax exemption to levels in place during the Obama administration. If you haven’t read that part yet, do so now.

Here, in part two, we’ll cover three additional ways the Biden administration plans to raise taxes, along with offering steps you might want to consider taking to offset the bite these proposed tax hikes could have on your family’s financial and estate planning.

Elimination of step-up in basis on inherited assets

In addition to raising the capital-gains tax rate, Biden has also proposed repealing the step-up in basis on inherited assets. Under the current step-up in basis rule, if you sell an inherited asset that has appreciated in value, such as real estate or stock, the capital gains tax you owe on the sale is pegged to the value of the asset at the time you inherited it, rather than the value of the asset when it was originally purchased.

This can minimize, or even totally eliminate, the capital gains you would owe on the sale. For example, say your mother originally bought her house for $100,000. Over the years, the house grows in value, and it’s worth $500,000 upon her death. If you inherit the house, the step-up would put your tax basis for the house at $500,000, so if you immediately sold the house for $500,000, you would pay zero in capital-gains.

Alternatively, if you held onto the house for a few more years and then sold it for $700,000, you would only owe capital gains on the $200,000 difference on the house’s value from when you inherited it and when it was sold.

However, if the step-up in basis is repealed and you sell the house, you would owe capital gains tax based on the difference between the home’s original purchase price of $100,000 and the price at which you sell it. And whether you sell it right away or wait for it to increase in value, you’d be on the hook to pay exponentially more in capital gains, compared to what you’d owe with step-up in basis in effect.

At this point, it isn’t clear exactly how the new rules would work under Biden’s plan, or what, if any, exceptions would apply. That said, if step-up in basis is repealed, your loved ones most likely won’t be able to avoid paying capital gains on appreciated assets they inherit from you, but if you have highly appreciated assets, meet with us to discuss options for reducing your loved one’s tax bill as much as possible.

Capping the value of itemized deductions at 28%

Another way Biden plans to bring in more tax revenue is by capping the value of itemized deductions at 28% for those earning more than $400,000. This means taxpayers in the highest bracket would get a 28%—rather than 39.6%—reduction for every deductible dollar they itemize.

Given the proposed cap, if you earn more than $400,000 and plan to itemize, you should meet with us and your CPA together to discuss alternative ways to save on your taxes to offset the new cap on itemized deductions. For example, if you would be limited by the itemized deduction cap in 2021 or later, you may want to consider increasing charitable donations in 2020.

If you’d like to make a big charitable gift this year, but aren’t yet sure which charities you would want to benefit, we have strategies that could work for you. Contact us as soon as possible to get started.

Increased taxes on businesses

If you own a business, it’s likely a primary source of your family’s income. And depending on its revenue and entity structure, your business could see a tax hike should Democrats sweep the election.

One of the hallmarks of the TCJA was a lowering of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Biden proposes to raise the corporate rate to 28%. Additionally, under the TCJA pass-through entities—sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and S corporations—were given a potential 20% deduction on Qualified Business Income (QBI). Biden plans to eliminate the 20% QBI deduction, but only for those businesses with pass-through income exceeding $400,000.

Although we don’t specialize in business tax law, if your family business stands to be affected by these proposed changes, we can work with you and an experienced business lawyer we trust to develop strategies to reduce the sting of these tax increases. Call us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, today if you have a business and would like our support with this planning.

Start Strategizing Now

Regardless of how you feel about Trump, the TCJA offers a number of highly valuable tax breaks that may disappear for good should a so-called “blue wave” occur in the upcoming election. To this end, if your family has yet to take advantage of the TCJA’s favorable provisions, you still have a chance to do so, but you have to act immediately.

Given the time needed to analyze your options, create a plan, and finalize your transactions, waiting until the election is over to get started will almost certainly be too late. While you don’t need to immediately make any actual changes, we suggest you at least start strategizing now. And this means contacting us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, right away.

Whether you need to transfer assets out of your estate to lock in the enhanced gift and estate tax exemptions, accelerate large transactions to reap favorable capital-gains rates, or would like to increase your charitable donations for 2020, we can help you get the ball rolling. Schedule your appointment today, so you don’t miss out on massive savings that may never come again.

4 Reasons Why You Can’t Afford to Go Without An Estate Plan

October 19th-25th, 2020 is National Estate Planning Awareness Week,

so if you’ve been thinking about creating an estate plan, but still haven’t checked it off your to-do list, now is the perfect time to get it done. If you or anyone you love has yet to create a plan, contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to get your plan started today.

When it comes to putting off or refusing to create an estate plan, your mind can concoct all sorts of rationalizations: “I won’t care because I’ll be dead,” “I’m too young,” “That won’t happen to me,” or “My family will know what to do.”

But these thoughts all come from a mix of pride, denial, and above all, a lack of real education about estate planning and the consequences to your family of not planning. Once you understand exactly how planning is designed to work and what it protects against, you’ll realize there is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan.

Indeed, the first step in creating a proper plan is to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of going without one. In the event of your death or incapacity, not having a plan could be incredibly traumatic and costly for both you and your family, who will be forced to deal with the mess you’ve left behind.

While each estate and family are unique, here are some of the things most likely to happen to you and your loved ones if you fail to create a plan.

1. Your family will have to go to court

If you don’t have a plan, or if you only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. But with no plan at all, probate can be a true nightmare for your loved ones.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take months, or even years, to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. In fact, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be nothing left for anyone to inherit. And if there are any assets left, your family will likely have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.

Yet, the most burdensome part of probate is the frustration and anxiety it can cause your loved ones. In addition to grieving your death, planning your funeral, and contacting everyone you’re close with, your family will be stuck dealing with a crowded court system that can be challenging to navigate even in the best of circumstances. Plus, the entire affair is open to the public, which can make things all the more arduous for those you leave behind, especially if the wrong people take an interest in your family’s affairs.

That said, the expense and drama of the court system can be almost totally avoided with proper planning. Using a trust, for example, we can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death, without the need for any court intervention. As long as you have planned properly, just about everything can happen in the privacy of our office and on your family’s time.

2. You have no control over who inherits your assets

If you die without a plan, the court will decide who inherits your assets, and this can lead to all sorts of problems. Who is entitled to your property is determined by our state’s intestate succession laws, which hinge largely upon whether you are married and if you have children.
Spouses and children are given top priority, followed by your other closest living family members. If you’re single with no children, your assets typically go to your parents and siblings, and then more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. If no living relatives can be located, your assets go to the state.But you can change all of this with a plan and ensure your assets pass the way you want.

It’s important to note that state intestacy laws only apply to blood relatives, so unmarried partners and/or close friends would get nothing. If you want someone outside of your family to inherit your property, having a plan is an absolute must.

If you’re married with children and die with no plan, it might seem like things would go fairly smoothly, but that’s not always the case. If you’re married but have children from a previous relationship, for example, the court could give everything to your spouse and leave your children out. In another instance, you might be estranged from your kids or not trust them with money, but without a plan, state law controls who gets your assets, not you.

Moreover, dying without a plan could also cause your surviving family members to get into an ugly court battle over who has the most right to your property. Or if you become incapacitated, your loved ones could even get into conflict over your medical care. You may think this would never happen to your loved ones, but we see families torn apart by it all the time, even when there’s little financial wealth involved.

We can help you create a plan that handles your assets and your care in the exact manner you wish, taking into account all of your family dynamics, so your death or incapacity won’t be any more painful or expensive for your family than it needs to be.

3. You have no control over your medical, financial, or legal decisions in the event of your incapacity

Most people assume estate planning only comes into play when they die, but that’s dead wrong—pun fully intended. Although planning for your eventual death is a big part of the process, it’s just as important—if not more so—to plan for your potential incapacity due to accident or illness.
If you become incapacitated and have no plan in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs. This process can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic for everyone involved. In fact, incapacity can be a much greater burden for your loved ones than your death.

We, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, can help you put planning vehicles in place that grant the person(s) of your choice the immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. We can also implement planning strategies that provide specific guidelines detailing how you want your medical care to be managed, including critical end-of-life decisions.

4. You have no control over who will raise your children

If you’re the parent of minor children, the most devastating consequence of having no estate plan is what could happen to your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. Without a plan in place naming legal guardians for your kids, it will be left for a judge to decide who cares for your children. And this could cause major heartbreak not only for your children, but for your entire family.

You’d like to think that a judge would select the best person to care for your kids, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Indeed, the judge could pick someone from your family you’d never want to raise them to adulthood. And if you don’t have any family, or the family you do have is deemed unfit, your children could be raised by total strangers.

What’s more, if you have several relatives who want to care for your kids, they could end up fighting one another in court over who gets custody. This can get extremely ugly, as otherwise well-meaning family members fight one another for years, making their lawyers wealthy, while your kids are stuck in the middle.

With this in mind, if you have minor children, your number-one planning priority should be naming legal guardians to care for your children if anything should happen to you. This is so critical, we’ve developed a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan® that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians.

Naming legal guardians won’t keep your family out of court, as a judge is always required to finalize the legal naming of guardians in the event of death or incapacity of parents. But if it’s important to you who raises your kids if you can’t, you need to give the judge clear direction.

On top of that, you need to take action to keep your kids out of the care of strangers over the immediate term, while the authorities figure out what to do if you’re incapacitated or dead. We handle that in a Kids Protection Plan®, too.

You can get this process started right now for free by visiting our user-friendly website: https://honlaw.kidsprotectionplan.com/

No more excuses

Given the potentially dire consequences for both you and your family, you can’t afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will guide you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure you’ve taken all the proper precautions to spare your loved ones from needless frustration, conflict, and expense.
That said, the biggest benefit you stand to gain from putting a plan in place is the peace of mind that comes from knowing your loved ones will be provided and cared for no matter what happens to you. Don’t wait another day—contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to schedule an appointment, so you can finally check this urgent task off your to-do list.

Start Planning Now to Prepare Your Estate for a Possible Democratic Sweep—Part 1

No matter who you are voting for on November 3rd, you may want to start considering the potential legal, financial, and tax impacts a change of leadership might have on your family’s planning. And as you’ll learn here, there are a number of reasons why you should start strategizing now, because if you wait until after the election, it will very likely be too late.

Although the election outcome is impossible to predict, some polls show Joe Biden with a healthy lead over Donald Trump and the Democrats could be poised to take a majority in both houses of Congress. Such a Democratic sweep will likely have far-reaching consequences on a number of policy fronts. But in terms of financial, tax, and estate planning, it’s almost certain that we’ll see radical changes to the tax landscape that could seriously impact your planning priorities. And while it’s unlikely that a major tax bill would be enacted right away, there’s always the possibility that when legislation does pass it could be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2021.



With that in mind, in this two-part series, we’ll outline the major ways Biden plans to change tax laws, so you can adapt your family’s finances and estate planning considerations accordingly. Although you may decide to put off any actual changes to your estate plan until after the election, if you have any big transactions on the horizon, or if you have an estate that could be worth $1 million or more when you die, we suggest you at least start strategizing now. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to take the appropriate action before the end of the year, which will undoubtedly be a chaotic period regardless of who wins the election.

Focus on high net-worth taxpayers

While Trump has yet to release any formal economic proposals for a second term, Biden’s proposed economic agenda is essentially focused on raising some $4 trillion of new revenue over the next 10 years. The vast majority of this revenue would come from increasing taxes on high net-worth individuals.

Under Biden’s plan, “high net-worth individuals” are taxpayers earning more than $400,000. Those earning less than that would generally not see an increase—and perhaps even a decrease—in taxes, at least in the short-term. At this point, however, it’s not clear if the $400,000 threshold would apply equally to singles, heads of households, and/or married joint-filing couples.

Although the specifics haven’t been fully ironed out yet, Biden’s plan would boost tax revenue in a handful of ways:

  • Increasing the top personal income and capital-gains tax rates
  • Reinstating the payroll tax on higher incomes
  • Returning the federal estate and gift tax exemption to prior levels
  • Eliminating the step-up in cost basis on inherited investments
  • Capping itemized deductions
  • Increasing the corporate tax rate

Increased personal income tax rates on the wealthy

Starting in 2018, Trump’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced the top federal income tax rates on individuals from 39.6% to 37%. Biden’s tax plan would put the top income tax rate back to 39.6% on personal income in excess of $400,000.

This means that everyone earning more than $400,000 a year would see a tax hike. On the other hand, those making less than $400,000 would see no change in their personal income tax rate.

Higher maximum tax rate for capital gains

One of the most dramatic changes proposed under Biden’s plan involves the way capital gains are taxed. Short-term capital gains (assets held for a year or less) are taxed at the ordinary income tax rates, and under Biden’s proposal, those rates would max out at 39.6%. But the tax rates for long-term capital gains would see an even bigger hike.

Long-term capital gains (assets held for more than a year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term gains to encourage long-term investment. Those rates are currently set at 0% for individuals with annual incomes up to $40,000, 15% for incomes between $40,001 and $441,450, and max out at 20% for incomes above $441,451.

The Biden plan, however, would create an entirely new tax bracket just for long-term capital gains in which gains for individuals with incomes higher than $1 million would be taxed at 39.6%. So if you’re making more than $1 million a year, you’d no longer see the benefit of lower capital gains rates.

Given the potential for an increased capital gains tax rate, if you earn more than $1 million a year and are considering a sale of capital-gains qualified assets, or if a sale will bump up your income, you may want to consider accelerating any large transactions, so they’re finalized before the end of the year.

If this is the case for you, consult with us, along with your tax and financial advisors, right away for guidance about which transactions should be prioritized and how to maximize your tax savings on each one. Keep in mind, if you wait to contact us about such transactions until mid-November, it’s unlikely we are going to be able to accommodate your needs, so be sure to act now.

Increased Social Security tax on high-income earners

Another way Biden’s plan would raise tax revenue is by subjecting incomes above $400,000 to the Social Security tax. Currently, the 12.4% Social Security tax—also known as the payroll tax—applies only to the first $137,700 of your income. Earnings above that amount aren’t subject to the tax, and the cap goes up annually with inflation.

Biden proposes applying the 12.4% tax to wages and self-employment income starting at $400,001. This means the first $137,700 of your earnings will continue to be taxed at 12.4%, but you will pay no Social Security tax on additional earnings up to $400,000. However, any additional earnings exceeding $400,000 would be taxed at 12.4%.

The untaxed gap, or “doughnut hole,” on earnings between $137,700 and $400,001 would close over time with the annual increases for inflation. This change is designed to bolster the Social Security system by ensuring that the highest income levels are eventually subject to the full payroll tax.

In light of this proposed change, if you are expecting a bonus or other special end-of-the-year compensation, you should consider arranging for the money to be paid out by the end of 2020, rather than waiting until the start of 2021.

Increased estate and gift tax exposure

When it comes to estate planning, the most critical aspect of Biden’s proposed tax increases would be a major reduction in the federal gift and estate tax exemption. Starting in 2018, the TCJA doubled the gift and estate tax exemption from prior levels, increasing to $11.58 million for single taxpayers and $23.16 million for married couples. Any amounts above this exemption you give away during your lifetime or transfer upon your death are subject to a flat 40% tax.

The increased exemption amounts under the TCJA will sunset at the end of 2025, but if Biden wins the presidency, the enhanced exemption could be repealed much sooner. Indeed, Biden proposes to reduce the exemption back to at least the 2017 level of $5.45 million for individuals and $11.58 for couples.

There are others who suggest the federal gift and estate tax under Biden might even return to 2009 levels, when the individual exemption was set at $3.5 million and the estate tax rate was 45%. What’s more, seeing that in the past lawmakers have made estate tax rates retroactive, it’s possible that these changes could be applied retroactively and go into effect as early as Jan. 1, 2021.

Whatever the final outcome, it’s clear that if you have assets valued between $3.5 and $11 million, you need to seriously consider taking steps now to take advantage of favorable estate-tax exemption rates that may never be seen again. To this end, you should consider opportunities to transfer assets out of your estate now in order to lock in the higher exemption amounts.

That said, transferring assets out of your estate, whether done via gifting or other means, can take several weeks to plan, set up, and finalize, so avoid the temptation to wait until after the election to start planning. In fact, you should immediately meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to discuss your options and get things started.

By setting your plan in motion now, you can have your strategies in place and ready to go, so you can pull the trigger (if needed) once election results are in.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on how to prepare your estate plan for a Biden presidency.

What You Should Know Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee

Being asked by a loved one to serve as trustee for their trust upon their death can be quite an honor, but it’s also a major responsibility—and the role is definitely not for everyone. Indeed, serving as a trustee entails a broad array of duties, and you are both ethically and legally required to properly execute those duties or face potential liability.

​In the end, your responsibility as a trustee will vary greatly depending on the size of the estate, the type of assets covered by the trust, the type of trust, how many beneficiaries there are, and the document’s terms. In light of this, you should carefully review the specifics of the trust you would be managing before making your decision to serve.

And remember, you don’t have to take the job.

Yet, depending on who nominated you, declining to serve may not be an easy or practical option. On the other hand, you might actually enjoy the opportunity to serve, so long as you understand what’s expected of you.

To that end, this article offers a brief overview of what serving as a trustee typically entails. If you are asked to serve as trustee, feel free to contact us to support you in evaluating whether you can effectively carry out all the duties or if you should politely decline.

A trustee’s primary responsibilities

Although every trust is different, serving as trustee comes with a few core requirements. These duties primarily involve accounting for, managing, and distributing the trust’s assets to its named beneficiaries as a fiduciary.

As a fiduciary, you have the power to act on behalf of the trust’s creator and beneficiaries, always putting their interests above your own. Indeed, you have a legal obligation to act in a trustworthy and honest manner, while providing the highest standard of care in executing your duties.

This means that you are legally required to properly manage the trust and its assets in the best interest of all the named beneficiaries. And if you fail to abide by your duties as a fiduciary, you can face legal liability. For this reason, you should consult with us for a more in-depth explanation of the duties and responsibilities a specific trust will require of you before agreeing to serve.
Regardless of the type of trust or the assets it holds, some of your key responsibilities as trustee include:

  • Identifying and protecting the trust assets
  • Determining what the trust’s terms require in terms of management and distribution of the assets
  • Hiring and overseeing an accounting firm to file income and estate taxes for the trust
  • Communicating regularly with beneficiaries
  • Being scrupulously honest, highly organized, and keeping detailed records of all transactions
  • Closing the trust when the trust terms specify

No experience necessary

It’s important to point out that being a trustee does NOT require you to be an expert in law, finance, taxes, or any other field related to trust administration. In fact, trustees are not only allowed to seek outside support from professionals in these areas, they’re highly encouraged to do so, and the trust estate will pay for you to hire these professionals.

So even though serving as a trustee may seem like a daunting proposition, you won’t have to handle the job alone. And you are also able to be paid to serve as trustee of a trust.

That said, many trustees, particularly close family members, often choose to forgo any payment beyond what’s required to cover the trust expenses, if that’s possible. But how you are compensated will depend on your personal circumstances, your relationship with the trust’s creator and beneficiaries, as well as the nature of the assets in the trust.

We can help

Because serving as a trustee involves such serious responsibility, you should meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, for help deciding whether or not to accept the role. We can offer you a clear, unbiased assessment of what’s required of you based on the trust’s terms, assets, and beneficiaries.

And if you do choose to serve, it’s even more important that you have someone who can assist you with the trust’s administration. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you step-by-step throughout the entire process, ensuring you properly fulfill all of the trust creator’s wishes without exposing the beneficiaries—or yourself—to any unnecessary risks. Contact us today to learn more.

What the Netflix Series Tiger King Can Teach You About Asset Protection Planning-Part 3

Anyone who has seen the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness can attest that it’s one of the most outlandish stories to come out in a year full of outlandish stories. And while Tiger King’s sordid tale of big cats, murder-for-hire, polygamy, and a missing millionaire may seem too outrageous to have any relevance to your own life, the series actually sheds light on a number of critical estate planning and asset protection issues that could apply to your family.

Over seven episodes, Tiger King provides several shocking, real-life examples of how estate planning and asset protection planning can go horribly wrong if it’s undertaken without trusted legal guidance. In this series of articles, we’ve been discussing some of the worst planning mistakes made by key people in the documentary, while offering lessons for how such disasters could have been avoided with proper planning and a trusted advisor on the team.

In part one  and part two of this series, we discussed how the nightmarish ordeal Don Lewis’ daughters experienced following his death could have been entirely avoided if Don had worked with a lawyer to create his estate plan. Here in part three, we’re going to shift gears and focus on the estate planning mistakes made by the self-proclaimed Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic.

The Tiger King gets dethroned

While the news that Carole forged Don’s will was a huge blow to Carole’s credibility and reputation, that very same week, Carole achieved a major victory over her arch nemesis, Joe. And ironically, that victory also involved fraud, although this time Carole was the victim, not the perpetrator.

On June 1, 2020, a federal judge awarded Carole ownership to all of Joe’s property, including his Oklahoma zoo, 16.4 acres of land, several cabins, and multiple vehicles. The ruling was part of a $1-million judgment resulting from a trademark infringement lawsuit Carole brought against Joe in 2013.

As we wrote about in part one, much of Tiger King was devoted to covering the bitter public feud between Carole and Joe that eventually resulted in Joe being sentenced to 22 years in prison for hiring a hitman to kill Carole. During this feud, Joe and Carole—both owners and breeders of big cats—repeatedly bash one another in the media over the course of decades.

At some point during the feud, Joe creates a company called Big Cat Rescue Entertainment (BCR Entertainment) for his travelling tiger cub-petting business in order to poach Carole’s potential customers. Joe even goes so far as to create business cards for the new company that feature an imitation of the Big Cat Rescue logo, photos from the Big Cat Rescue website, and a Florida phone number to trick people into thinking BCR Entertainment was actually Carole’s sanctuary.

This leads Carole to file a trademark infringement lawsuit against Joe, claiming he created the business cards to cause confusion between the two companies and steal her customers. The court agreed with Carole’s claim, and a judge ordered Joe to pay Carole and Big Cat Rescue $953,000. This judgment, along with the resulting financial stress it puts on Joe, is what ultimately motivates Joe to hire a hitman.

How not to protect your assets

Following the court’s ruling, Joe knows he stands to lose his zoo and everything else he owns to pay the judgment. Desperate to keep his business and prevent Carole from collecting any of his money, Joe attempts to shield his zoo by transferring title to the property to his mother, Shirley Schreibvogel, using a series of quit-claim deeds.

Discovering Joe’s attempt to thwart her, Carole files a separate lawsuit against Joe’s mother for fraudulent transfer of property. Joe’s mother eventually admits under oath during a deposition that the zoo and land were transferred to her by Joe to remove it from the reach of creditors, including Carole. This leads the judge to rule that the property was fraudulently transferred by Joe to his mother, and this judgment effectively reverses those conveyances, giving Carole control over all of Joe’s property.

Although we certainly don’t condone Joe’s actions, he had every right to want to protect his zoo and other assets from being lost to a lawsuit—it’s just that he went about doing so in entirely the wrong way and at the wrong time. In fact, had Joe used proactive planning strategies to properly shield his assets when he started his zoo, he most likely could have  prevented Carole from seizing control of his business—and at the same time, avoided the need to commit the crime that sent him to prison.

This brings us to our third, and final, estate planning lesson—and this one will focus on asset protection:

Lesson three: To safeguard your family’s most valuable assets from legal and financial liability, consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer to put in place and maintain a comprehensive asset-protection plan—and do so well before you need it.

While we know most people would never find themselves facing anything remotely similar to Joe’s situation, just about everyone faces potential liability from far more common threats. Whether from a lawsuit, divorce, debt, or accident, the more successful you get, the more risk there is that someone will want to take what you have.

Moreover, it’s a popular, yet mistaken, belief that you can safeguard valuable assets like a home or business from creditors and lawsuits (or to qualify for government benefits like Medicaid to pay for long-term care needs) simply by signing over title of your assets to another family member. Yet, as we saw with Joe, transferring ownership in this way not only won’t effectively protect your assets, but can also lead to a myriad of other legal complications for yourself and others.

Although there are a variety of different planning vehicles available for asset protection, the most airtight strategy involves the use of highly specialized irrevocable trusts. Such trusts are set up so that your most precious assets, including those you want to pass on to your children, are owned by the trust, not you. Since you can’t lose what you don’t own, those assets can’t be reached by creditors, lawsuits, or in a divorce.

For example, if Joe had instructed his mother to set up an irrevocable trust for him right from the start, and then either funded the trust with enough money to start his zoo from scratch or buy the zoo at some point after it was up and running, the trust would have owned the zoo, not Joe. In that case, Carol would never have been able to seize the zoo, even if she won a judgment against Joe.

Alternatively, if Joe didn’t have a parent or another loved one to set up the trust for him, he could have established an irrevocable trust for himself and then gifted his business and other assets into the trust. While this strategy isn’t as airtight as the first and requires the passage of years between the time of transfer and the time of protection, it can still be better than nothing, especially if you plan well in advance of any sort of an issue.

Like all estate planning, for your plan to be effective, you must have your asset protection strategy in place well before something happens. If you try to protect your assets once a claim or lawsuit is even threatened, you could end up like Joe and find yourself not only losing your assets, but also charged with fraud. To this end, get your planning started now, while there’s nothing to worry about, and you still have every possible planning option available to safeguard your assets.

Planning lessons for the average Joe

As we’ve seen over the past three articles, when undertaken without the support and advice of a trusted lawyer, estate planning and asset protection planning can go tragically wrong. Although the details of the Tiger King saga are about as abnormal as they come, the lessons presented here can show all of us how to  prevent extremely common planning mistakes and apply to practically everyone who seeks to put a plan in place.

Indeed, if you attempt to handle even the most basic planning tasks, like creating a will on your own or using an online document service or transferring your property,  you’re placing everything you’ve worked your whole life to build in serious jeopardy, while opening your family up to becoming mired in costly legal battles, even decades after you’re gone. Meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to ensure your estate plan works exactly as intended and your family stays out of court and conflict, no matter what.

What the Netflix Series Tiger King Can Teach You About Estate Planning-Part 2

Anyone who has seen the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness can attest that it’s one of the most outlandish stories to come out in a year full of outlandish stories. And while Tiger King’s sordid tale of big cats, murder-for-hire, polygamy, and a missing millionaire may seem too outrageous to have any relevance to your own life, the series actually sheds light on a number of critical estate planning issues that are pertinent for practically everyone.

Over seven episodes, Tiger King provides several shocking, real-life examples of how estate planning can go horribly wrong if it’s undertaken without trusted legal guidance. In this series of articles, we’ll discuss some of the worst planning mistakes made by key people in the documentary, while offering lessons for how such disasters could have been avoided with proper planning.


A tale of two wills

Last week, in part one of this series, we focused on the estate planning mistakes made by Don Lewis, the late husband of Carole Baskin. Don, a multi-millionaire who helped Carole found Big Cat Rescue, mysteriously disappeared in 1997. Following Don’s disappearance, Carole produced a copy of Don’s will and power of attorney. Don named Carole his executor in his will and agent in his power of attorney.

In his will, Don left Carole nearly his entire estate—estimated to be worth $6 million—while leaving his three adult daughters from a previous marriage with just 10% of his assets. However, Don’s daughters claimed the documents Carole produced were fraudulent.

The daughters contend that their father was getting ready to divorce Carole, and because of the impending split, Don created a will that left his daughters the bulk of his estate, while largely disinheriting Carole. Yet because Don created this will on his own without the assistance of a lawyer, he failed to make and distribute copies of his plan to his daughters—or anyone else.

Don’s oversight ultimately proved disastrous, as the only copy of the estate plan favoring his daughters vanished from his office 10 days after he disappeared. His daughters alleged Carole stole the documents and destroyed them, so she could present her forged documents and inherit the vast majority of Don’s assets—and this is exactly what ended up happening when Don was declared legally dead and his estate passed through probate in 2002.

Although this is as far into the story as Tiger King gets—and where we left off in part one—more facts have come to light since the documentary aired that make the story even more scandalous, while also offering us additional estate planning lessons.

The Plot Thickens

After seeing the documentary, Chad Chronister, the third Hillsborough County Sheriff in office since Don vanished, reviewed the old case files and assigned new deputies to investigate his disappearance. In June 2020, after enlisting the help of two handwriting experts, the sheriff declared the will produced by Carole as “100% a forgery.”

This was something Don’s daughters always suspected, but were unable to successfully prove on their own due to a lack of financial resources. After Carole first filed her copy of Don’s will and power of attorney with the court in September 1997 (a month following his disappearance), Don’s daughters challenged those documents in court as forgeries.

Court documents show that in November 1997, Don’s daughters hired a handwriting expert to examine their father’s signatures on the planning documents Carole produced. The expert concluded that the signatures were forged, noting that they had likely been traced from Don and Carole’s marriage certificate.

But Carole hired two of her own handwriting experts that concluded the signatures on Don’s documents were genuine. At the time, Don’s daughters said they didn’t have the money to continue to fight Carole over the forgery issue, so they chose not to further challenge the documents, and the court sided with Carole.

However, given the new proof of forgery, can Don’s daughters further challenge Carole in court in an attempt to recover their rightful share of his assets? Sadly, it looks highly unlikely at this late date.

The Clock Is Always Ticking

Under Florida law, the general statute of limitations for legally challenging a will is four years from the date the will was filed, which expired in 2001. And while Florida’s general statute of limitations for challenging a will can sometimes be extended for up to 12 years in cases of fraud, that term expired in 2009.

On the criminal side, both the sheriff and Florida Attorney General noted that the five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting Carole for forgery has also run. Of course, there’s no statute of limitation for murder, and the sheriff said they were pursuing new leads as of July. So there’s a chance that Carole could be convicted on a charge related to Don’s death, and if so, she would be forced to give up all of the assets she inherited from him.

Florida, like most states, has a “slayer statute” that prevents anyone “who unlawfully and intentionally kills or participates in procuring the death of the decedent” from benefiting from their will. Yet even if that were to happen, it’s unlikely that Don’s daughters would be able to recover anything close to what they would be entitled to, especially since Carole has had control of Don’s assets for nearly two decades already.

Given these new facts, what actions should have been taken to prevent such an epic tragedy from occurring? This leads us to our second lesson:

Lesson Two: To avoid putting your loved ones through the unnecessary trauma and expense of litigating potential conflicts over your estate after something happens to you (and it’s too late), you must invest the time and money NOW to get planning in place with a lawyer.

Although Don was quite wealthy, according to almost everyone who knew him, he never came across as such. In fact, he was a notorious penny pincher, who reportedly was even willing to go “dumpster diving” if it meant he could save a dollar or two. In light of this, Don undoubtedly thought that he could save time and money by creating his own planning documents without consulting a lawyer.

Yet as we can see, trying to cut corners and save a few bucks by taking the DIY route with your planning documents is a huge mistake. Indeed, the potential consequences and costs to your loved ones can ultimately far exceed whatever minor savings in time and money you hoped to achieve by not enlisting the assistance of an attorney. As we pointed out last week, if Don had created his estate plan with the support of an experienced estate planning lawyer, none of this would have happened.

And that same lesson applies here as well, particularly in light of these new facts. Had Don worked with a trusted lawyer to create, maintain, and update his plan, Carole would have been unable to pass off forged documents supposedly created by Don in 1996. And that’s because his lawyers, loved ones, and the court would all have certified copies of Don’s most recent plan, rendering any previous versions invalid.

The reason you spend the time and money upfront to hire an attorney to put a proper plan in place is to prevent your loved ones from ever needing to hire their own lawyer down the road. Once something happens to you, whether it’s your eventual death or in the event of your incapacity, it’s too late—you must act now. By working with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can plan ahead to predict and prevent any potential for conflict that might arise over your estate, and we can also help ensure that there won’t be any legal grounds for your plan to be successfully contested.

Moreover, we can also ensure that your loved ones, along with anyone who might have reason to dispute your plan, are fully aware of the reasons and intentions behind every choice you made in your plan—and they learn about these choices while you’re still around. In fact, we often recommend holding a family meeting (which we can facilitate) to go over everything with all impacted parties.

Contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, today to ensure your plan works exactly as intended, and your family isn’t subjected to a nightmare scenario like the one Don’s daughters experienced and are still dealing with to this day.

But what about Joe?

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about Carole’s tabloid-headlining legal battle with Mr. Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic. We’ll explore the highlights of their epic feud—and offer more estate planning lessons based on it—in our third and final article in this series next week.

What the Netflix Series Tiger King Can Teach You About Estate Planning-Part 1

Anyone who has seen the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness can attest that it’s one of the most outlandish stories to come out in a year full of outlandish stories. And while Tiger King’s sordid tale of big cats, murder-for-hire, polygamy, and a missing millionaire may seem too outrageous to have any relevance to your own life, the series actually sheds light on a number of critical estate planning issues that are pertinent for practically everyone.

Over seven episodes, Tiger King provides several shocking, real-life examples of how estate planning can go horribly wrong if it’s undertaken without trusted legal guidance. In this series of articles, we’ll discuss some of the worst planning mistakes made by key people in the documentary, while offering lessons for how such disasters could have been avoided with proper planning.


The Feud

While the documentary’s dark, twisted plot is far too complicated to fully summarize, it focuses primarily on the bitter rivalry between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, who are both owners and breeders of big cats. Joe, the self-professed “Tiger King,” whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, runs a roadside zoo in Oklahoma filled with more than a hundred tigers, lions, and other assorted animals.

Carole is the owner of Big Cat Rescue, a Florida-based sanctuary for big cats rescued from captivity. As an avid animal rights activist, Carole goes on a public crusade against Joe, seeking to have his zoo shut down, claiming that he exploits, abuses, and kills the animals under his care.

In retaliation, Joe launches an extensive media campaign of his own against Carole, in which he accuses her of murdering her late husband, millionaire Don Lewis, and feeding his remains to her tigers. The feud between Joe and Carole goes on for decades, and it ultimately peaks after Carole wins a million-dollar trademark infringement lawsuit against Joe.

The legal fees and impending judgment from the lawsuit nearly bankrupt Joe, eventually pushing him to hire someone to kill Carole. However, instead of killing Carole, the individual Joe hires goes to the FBI and informs them of Joe’s murderous plot. Joe is ultimately arrested for hiring a hitman to kill Carole, along with multiple animal abuse charges, and he’s sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.

Although the clash between Joe and Carole takes center stage and exposes key estate planning concerns related to business ownership and asset protection (which we’ll cover a little later) the most egregious planning errors are made by Carol’s late husband Don Lewis. In fact, the full extent of duplicity and damage related to these mistakes isn’t even uncovered by the documentary, and have only recently come to light following renewed public interest in the case sparked by the show.

What’s more, since the fallout from Don’s poor planning has tragic results not just for him, but for the very loved ones he was seeking to protect with his estate plan, we’ll discuss Don’s planning mishaps first.

Missing millionaire

Don, a fellow big-cat enthusiast who helped Baskin start Big Cat Rescue, mysteriously disappeared in 1997 and hasn’t been seen since. After having him declared legally dead in 2002, Carole produced a copy of Don’s will that left her nearly his entire estate—estimated to be worth $6 million—while leaving his daughters from a previous marriage with just 10% of his assets.

Carole was not only listed as Don’s executor in the will she presented, but she also produced a document in which Don granted her power of attorney. However, the planning documents Carole produced were deemed suspicious by multiple people who were close to Don for a number of reasons.

Don’s daughters and his first wife claim that Don and Carole were having serious marital problems before he disappeared, and that Don was planning to divorce Carole. As evidence of this, we learn that Don sought a restraining order against Carole just two months before he vanished, in which he alleges Carole threatened to kill him. A judge denied the restraining order, saying there was “no immediate threat of violence.”

Don’s daughters also claim that around the time the restraining order was filed, their father created a will that left the vast majority of his estate to them, and he did so in order to minimize any claims Carole might have to his property should he pass away. Additionally, Don’s administrative assistant, Anne McQueen, said that before he disappeared, Don gave her an envelope containing his new will and a power of attorney document, in which he named Anne as his executor and power of attorney agent, not Carole.

Anne said Don told her to take the envelope to the police if anything should happen to him. According to Anne, the envelope with Don’s planning documents was kept in a lock box in Don’s office, but she claims Carole broke into the office and took the documents 10 days after he disappeared. At the time, Anne was being interviewed by detectives when she received a call from the alarm company, letting her know that the alarm in Don’s office had been triggered.

When police arrived, they found Carole removing files from the trailer that served as Lewis’ office. She was being helped by her father and Don’s handyman. The handyman had cut the locks, and according to Anne, this was because Carole didn’t have a key. Later that day, Carole had the entire trailer hauled to the grounds of the big cat sanctuary.

Anne told detectives that Carole removed the trailer and its contents in order to destroy his planning documents stored in the lockbox. From there, Anne believes Carole forged the will and power of attorney she ultimately presented to the court.

Carole vehemently denied all of these claims. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Carole said she moved the office trailer because her father claimed he saw Anne removing files from it a day earlier. She also insisted she never threatened Don’s life, and that he disappeared on one of his many trips to Costa Rica. She further claims that Don sought to disinherit his children in his will, and it was only at Carole’s suggestion that Don left them anything at all.

Although law enforcement investigated Don’s disappearance from Tampa to Costa Rica, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the investigation failed to uncover any physical evidence, only a conflicting series of stories and dead ends. In light of this, Don’s estate passed through probate in 2002, and his assets were distributed according to the terms of the will Carole presented, leaving Carole with the bulk of his $6-million estate, and leaving Don’s daughters with just a small fraction of his assets.

While there’s more to the story surrounding Don’s planning documents and Carole’s suspicious actions, let’s first look at the planning mistakes Don made and how they could have been easily prevented.

Lesson 1: Always work with an experienced estate planning lawyer when creating or updating your planning documents, especially if you have a blended family.

If Don’s children and assistant are correct in their claim that Don created a will that left his daughters the bulk of his estate and disinherited Carole, it appears he did so without the assistance of an attorney. This was his first big mistake.

There are numerous do-it-yourself (DIY) estate planning websites that allow you to create various planning documents within a matter of minutes for relatively little expense. Yet, as we can see here, when you use DIY estate planning instead of the services of a trusted advisor guiding you and your family, the documents can easily disappear or be changed without anyone who can testify to what you really wanted. In the end—and when it’s too late—taking the DIY route can cost your family far more than not creating any plan at all.

Even if you think your particular planning situation is simple, that turns out to almost never be the case. As we covered in a previous article, there are a number of complications inherent to DIY estate plans that can cause them to be ruled invalid by a court, while also creating unnecessary conflict and expense for the very people you are trying to protect with your plan.

And while it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer help you create your planning documents; this is exponentially true when you have a blended family like Don’s. If you are in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there’s an inherent risk of dispute because your children and spouse often have conflicting interests, particularly if there’s significant wealth at stake.

The risk for conflict is significantly increased if you are seeking to disinherit or favor one part of your family over another, as Don was claimed to have done with Carole. In fact, Florida law prevents one spouse from completely disinheriting the other in their estate plan, so unless Don was aware of this fact when he cut Carole out of his will, she would still be entitled to one-third of his assets upon his death, no matter what his will stipulated.

By creating your own plan, even with the help of a DIY service, you won’t be able to consider and plan ahead to avoid all the potential legal and family conflicts that could arise. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, however, we are not only specially trained to predict and prevent such conflicts, but our unique planning process can actually help create connections among your loved ones and bring your family closer together. In fact, this is our special sauce.

Finally, as we saw with Don, if your loved ones can’t find your planning documents—whether because they were misplaced or stolen—it’s as if they never existed in the first place. Yet, if Don had enlisted the support of an experienced planning professional like us, his documents would have been safeguarded from being lost, stolen, or destroyed.

When we create or update a plan for our clients, it’s standard practice to not only keep current copies in our office, but we also ensure that everyone affected by the plan is provided with the latest updated copies, and any older versions are discarded. Moreover, we ensure all beneficiaries of your plan know exactly what to do in the event of our client’s death, so your family can immediately put the necessary legal actions in motion to properly manage your estate.

If you’ve yet to create a plan, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been reviewed in more than a year, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We can ensure that your plan will remain safe and work exactly as intended if something should happen to you.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the estate planning lessons you can learn from the Netflix documentary Tiger King.

Buyer Beware: The Hidden Dangers of DIY Estate Planning – Part 1

The sites let you complete and print out just about any kind of planning document you can think of—wills, trusts, healthcare directives, and/or power of attorney—in just a matter of minutes. And the documents are typically quite inexpensive, with many sites offering simple wills for $50 or less.

At first glance, such DIY planning documents might appear to be a quick and inexpensive way to finally cross estate planning off your life’s lengthy to-do list. You know planning for your death and potential incapacity is important, but you just never seem to have time to take care of it.

And even if you realize your DIY plan won’t be as good as those prepared by a lawyer, at least it can serve as a temporary solution, until you can find time to meet with an attorney to upgrade. These forms may not be perfect, you reason, but at least they’re better than having no plan at all.

However, relying on DIY planning documents can actually be worse than having no plan at all—and here’s why:

An inconvenient truth

Creating a plan using online documents, can give you a false sense of security—you think you’ve got planning covered, when you most certainly do not. DIY plans may even lead you to believe that you no longer need to worry about estate planning, causing you to put it off until it’s too late.

In this way, relying on DIY planning documents is one of the most dangerous choices you can make. In the end, such generic forms could end up costing your family even more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing any planning at all.

At least with no plan at all, planning would likely remain at the front of your mind, where it rightfully belongs until it’s handled properly.

Planning to fail

Many people don’t realize that estate planning entails much more than just filling out legal forms. Without a thorough understanding of how the legal process works upon your death or incapacity, you’ll likely make serious mistakes when creating a DIY plan. Even worse, these mistakes won’t be discovered until it’s too late—and the loved ones you were trying to protect will be the very ones forced to clean up your mess.

The whole purpose of estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. Yet, as cheap online estate planning services become more and more popular, millions of people are learning—or will soon learn—that taking the DIY route can not only fail to achieve this purpose, it can make the court cases and family conflicts far worse and more costly.

One size does not fit all

Online planning documents may appear to save you time and money, but keep in mind, just because you created “legal” documents doesn’t mean they will actually work when you need them. Indeed, if you read the fine print of most DIY planning websites, you’ll find numerous disclaimers pointing out that their documents are “no substitute” for the advice of a lawyer.

Some disclaimers warn that these documents are not even guaranteed to be “correct, complete, or up to date.” These facts should be a huge red flag, but it’s just one part of the problem.

Even if the forms are 100% correct and up-to-date, there are still many potential pitfalls that can cause the documents to not work as intended—or fail all together. And without an attorney to advise you, you won’t have any idea of what you should watch out for.

Estate planning is definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Even if you think your particular planning situation is simple, that turns out to almost never be the case. To demonstrate just how complicated the planning process can be, here are 4 common complications you’re likely to encounter with DIY plans.

1Improper execution

To be considered legally valid, some planning documents must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following very strict legal procedures. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY will doesn’t mention that (or you don’t read the fine print) and you fail to follow this procedure, the document can be worthless.

2. Not adhering to state law

State laws are also very specific about who can serve in certain roles like trustee, executor, or financial power of attorney. In some states, for instance, the executor of your will must either be a family member or an in-law, and if not, the person must live in your state. If your chosen executor doesn’t meet those requirements, he or she cannot serve.

3. Unforeseen conflict

Family dynamics are—to put it lightly—complex. This is particularly true for blended families, where spouses have children from previous relationships. A DIY service cannot help you consider all the potential areas where conflict might arise among your family members and help you plan ahead of time to avoid it. When done right, the estate planning process is actually a huge opportunity to build new connections within your family, and we’re specifically trained to help you with that. In fact, that’s our special sauce.

We’ve all seen the impact of families ripped apart due to poor planning. Yet, every day we see families brought closer together as a result of handling these matters the right way. We want that for your family.

4. Thinking a will is enough

Lots of people believe that creating a will is sufficient to handle all of their planning needs. But this is rarely the case. A will, for example, does nothing in the event of your incapacity, for which you would also need a healthcare directive and/or a living will, plus a durable financial power of attorney.

Furthermore, because a will requires probate, it does nothing to keep your loved ones out of court upon your death. And if you have minor children, relying on a will alone could leave your kids vulnerable to being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers.

Don’t do it yourself

Given all of these potential dangers, DIY estate plans are a disaster waiting to happen. And as we’ll see next week, perhaps the worst consequence of trying to handle estate planning on your own is the potentially tragic impact it can have on the people you love most of all—your children.

In our next post, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the hidden dangers of DIY estate planning.

If you’ve yet to create a plan, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been reviewed in more than a year, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We can ensure that your plan will work exactly as intended if something should happen to you. Contact us today to learn more.

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