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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.

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.

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.

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