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7 Ways To Save Big Money On Your 2020 Taxes—Part 2

2020 was a nightmarish year for many families. But thanks to recent legislation, you could see a silver lining in the form of major tax breaks when filing your income taxes this spring. First up, although it’s technically not a tax break, the IRS recently announced that the deadline for filing your 2020 federal income taxes has been pushed back from April 15 to May 17, 2021, which gives you an extra month to get your tax return handled. 

The postponement applies to individual taxpayers, including those who pay self-employment taxes. But the extension does not apply to the first-quarter 2021 estimated tax payments that many small business owners file. So if you file quarterly taxes, contact your tax advisor now, if you haven’t already done so.

Additionally, the CARES Act passed in March 2020 provides individual taxpayers with several hefty tax-saving opportunities, many of which are only available this year. What’s more, President Biden’s new relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which went into effect in March 2021, not only offers additional stimulus payments to most Americans but also includes significant tax relief for those taxpayers who lost their job and had to rely on unemployment benefits in 2020.

While there are dozens of potential tax breaks available for 2020, last week in part one of this series, we highlighted the first three of seven ways you can save big money on your 2020 tax return. Here in part two, we’ll discuss the remaining four ways you can save.

4. New Rules for Early Withdrawals From Retirement Accounts

If your finances were seriously impacted by last year’s economic turmoil, you may have needed to withdraw funds from your retirement accounts to cover your expenses. And thanks to new rules under the CARES Act, you have more flexibility to make an emergency withdrawal from tax-deferred retirement accounts in 2020, without incurring the normal penalties.

Typically, permanent withdrawals from traditional IRAs or 401(k) accounts are taxed at ordinary income rates in the year the funds were taken out. And pulling out money before age 59 1/2 would also typically cost you a 10% penalty.

But thanks to the CARES Act, you can avoid the 10% penalty (if under 59 1/2) on up to $100,000 in pandemic-related distributions from your retirement account in 2020. You are also allowed to spread such distributions over three years to reduce the tax impact. Or better yet, you can opt to put this money back into your retirement account—also within three years—and avoid paying taxes on the money altogether.

However, because early withdrawals can negatively impact your retirement savings down the road, if you are looking to take advantage of this provision, you should consult with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, and your financial advisor first. Also, note that employers are not required to participate in this provision of the CARES Act, so you’ll also need to check with your plan administrator to see if it’s available at your workplace.

5. Medical Deductions 

If you had hefty medical bills in 2020, you might be able to get some tax relief using increased deductions. Under the CARES Act, you can deduct any medical expenses above 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Your AGI is your total income minus any other deductions you’ve already taken. 

For example, if your AGI was $100,000, you can deduct qualified unreimbursed medical expenses that exceeded $7,500 in 2020. However, you have to itemize your deductions in order to write off these expenses, so meet with us to determine if this would make sense for your situation.

6. Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC) is a refundable tax credit for low- and middle-income taxpayers that’s often overlooked. The amount of credit you can claim depends on your annual income and the number of kids you have—but people without kids can qualify, too. 

Below are the maximum EIC amounts for 2020, along with the maximum income you can earn before losing the credit altogether. Note: You can’t claim the EIC if you are a married individual filing separately.

 

Number of childrenMaximum earned income tax creditMax earnings,

single or head of household filers

Max earnings,

joint filers

0$538$15,820$21,710
1$3,584$41,756$47,646
2$5,920$47,440$53,330
3 or more$6,660$50,954$56,844

Additionally, for the 2020 tax year, there are special rules for the EIC due to the pandemic: You can use either your 2019 income or your 2020 income to calculate your EIC and use whichever number gets you the bigger credit. This doesn’t happen automatically, though, so be sure to ask your tax professional to run the numbers both ways and choose the option that offers the most savings.

7. Child Tax Credit

If you have minor children aged 16 or younger, the Child Tax Credit is one of the most effective ways to reduce your federal income tax bill—and there are special rules for 2020 that can save you even more. 

For your 2020 taxes, you can claim up to $2,000 per qualified child as a tax credit, and under rules due to the pandemic, you can use either your 2019 income or your 2020 income to calculate your credit—whichever year offers the most savings. The credit begins to phase out when your AGI reaches $75,000 for single filers, $150,000 for joint filers, and $112,500 for the head of household filers.

What’s more, with the passage of Biden’s new ARP this March, the child tax credit is set to get even bigger in 2021. When you file your taxes next year, the per-child credit will go up to $3,000 or $3,600, depending on your child’s age. Look for a future blog post detailing all of the new tax-saving opportunities available under the ARP for 2021 and beyond.

Maximize Your Tax Savings for 2020

These are just a few of the numerous tax breaks available for 2020. Indeed, there are plenty of other deductions and credits that might be up for grabs depending on your situation. Meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to make sure you don’t miss out on a single one. Contact us today to schedule your visit.

This article is a service of Stephanie D. Hon, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

Things to Remember While Updating Your Estate Plan After You Move

Although you likely won’t need to have an entirely new estate plan prepared for you, upon relocating to another state, you should definitely have your existing plan reviewed by an estate planning lawyer who is familiar with your new home state’s laws. Each state has its own laws governing estate planning, and those laws can differ significantly from one location to another.

Given this, you’ll want to make sure your planning documents all comply with the new state’s laws, and the terms of those documents still work as intended. Here, we’ll discuss how differing state laws can affect common planning documents and the steps you might want to take to ensure your documents are properly updated.

 

Last Will and Testament

The good news is, most states will accept a will that was executed properly under another state’s laws. However, there could be differences in the new state’s laws that make certain provisions in your will invalid. Here are a few of the things you should pay the most attention to in your will when moving:

Your Executor: Consider whether or not the executor or administrator you’ve chosen will be able to serve in that role in your new location. Every state will allow an out-of-state executor to serve, but some states have special requirements that those executors must meet, such as requiring them to post a bond before serving. Other states require non-resident executors to appoint an agent who lives within the state to accept legal documents on behalf of the estate.

Marital Property: If you are married, give special consideration to how your new state treats marital property. While a common-law state might treat the property you own in your name alone as yours, community-property states treat all of your property as owned jointly with your spouse. If your new state treats marital property differently, you might need to draft a new will to ensure your wishes are honored.

Interested Witnesses: Another important role under your will to consider when moving to a new state is an interested witness. An interested witness is someone who was a witness to your will who also receives a gift from your will. Some states allow interested witnesses to receive the gift, while other states do not allow such gifts. And still, other states allow such gifts provided the witness is a family member.

Revocable Living Trust

A valid revocable living trust from one state should continue to be valid in your new state. However, you need to make certain that you transfer any new assets or property you acquire, such as your new home, to your trust, so that those assets can avoid the need to go through probate before being distributed to your heirs upon your death.

Power of Attorney

A valid power of attorney documents, such as a durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, or financial power of attorney, created in one state may be valid in your new state. However, you shouldn’t just assume it will be accepted, and you should check with a lawyer like us to make certain your document will work 100% as intended.

What’s more, in some cases, banks, financial institutions, and healthcare facilities in your new state may not accept a power of attorney document if it’s unfamiliar to them, which is another reason to have these documents reviewed by a professional. Finally, simply as a practical matter, it may be a good idea to have your power of attorney agent live in the same state you do, so keep that in mind as well.

Advance Directive/ Living Will

When it comes to advance directives, such as a living will and medical power of attorney, you’ll find that most states will accept documents that were created in other states, but this isn’t guaranteed. Some states, for example, don’t even have any laws governing these matters, so healthcare professionals may be hesitant to accept out-of-state documents.

Furthermore, the provisions, forms, and language used in advance directives can vary widely between states. For example, some states combine a medical power of attorney with a living will so that you get to name the person in charge of making your medical decisions in the event of your incapacity and spell out your specific wishes for care all in one document. Yet, in other states the documents are separate. For these reasons, you should enlist the help of a lawyer to make sure your advance directives will be honored in your new locale.

While you are reviewing your directives for your new state, you should also review them to ensure they are clear on your wishes regarding how you should be given nutrition and hydration if hospitalized. Many directives aren’t specific enough in this area, and this is exactly what led to the lengthy battle over Terry Schiavo’s life. In addition, check to see if you want to add or change any provisions to account for the current realities of COVID-19.

Beneficiary Designations

If you have accounts with beneficiary designations, such as 401(k)s, life insurance policies, and payable-on-death bank accounts, these should be valid no matter which state you live in. That said, you should still review these documents when you move to ensure that your address and other personal information are updated.

Keep Your Plan Current

As with other major life events, such as births, deaths, and divorce, moving to a new state is the ideal time to have your plan reviewed by a professional. With us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll not only support you in creating the planning documents that are best suited for your situation and asset profile, but we also have systems and processes in place to ensure your documents stay totally updated throughout your lifetime.

Additionally, for parents of minor children, we can also help you create the legal documents for naming both short and long-term guardians, who would care for your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. This is so important; 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.

 

You can get the process of naming guardians started right now for free by visiting our user-friendly website.

Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session with us to learn more about our services or to get your estate plan started or reviewed today.

Why Estate Planning is a Women’s Issue

A group of wealth strategists at CIBC Private Wealth Management noticed that the women in attendance at educational seminars for client couples were often mum. So, as part of the firm’s Women’s CIRCLE initiative, they started women-only seminars, including one called Finding Your Way. The idea is that if you take an inventory of your financial life, and know a little bit about how the estate administration process works, you’ll be more confident and better prepared to deal with a death in the family.

The surprise: It wasn’t just older women in their 60s and 70s who have been signing up, but Millennial women, wanting to know what they should be doing to manage their own wealth and make sure their parents (especially moms who will generally outlive dads) are in good shape in the event of a death or divorce.

“These concepts are really daunting and quite scary,” says Becky Milliman, a managing director with CIBC Private Wealth Management in Chicago, noting that it takes courage for the less financially sophisticated family member to speak up, and that tends to be the woman.

Here are some top lessons.

Keep a list of trusted advisors. Many of the adult children couldn’t name their parents’ attorney or accountant. You shouldn’t just know their names, you should meet them or at least make a quick introductory phone call. Ditto for financial advisors, bankers, and/or insurance brokers. Keep an updated list with your will. More wealth management firms are rolling out “emergency contact forms” as a backstop for elder abuse. Fill them out.

Use a thumb drive. There were real concerns over digital assets, says Amanda Marsted, a managing director of CIBC Private Wealth Management in New York. Would you know the login information to access your spouse or parents’ accounts? Consider using a password manager, or store password information (and documents) on a thumb drive.

Have the conversation. What if mom or dad (or your spouse) says: “When you need to know, you’ll get the information.” Tell them: You don’t have to share balances, but at a minimum, you should share advisors, bank account numbers, and such. That will prevent much bigger problems down the line.

Keep important documents secure. Are your original wills and trusts at the lawyer’s office? Your real estate deed in your bank safe deposit box? Your insurance policies in one filing cabinet and income tax returns in another? The list goes on: retirement plan statements, birth/marriage certificates, Social Security cards. Make a list of these documents, including where you keep them. “You need to be prepared,” Milliman says.

Plan ahead if you have a family business. If you have a family business, do you have a succession plan in place? In one case, a widow was left with a business her late husband founded that she had no interest in carrying on. Luckily, it turned out to be an opportunistic time to sell, and Milliman helped the widow create a family foundation to minimize taxes from the sale and help her make a difference.

 Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2018/07/10/why-estate-planning-is-a-womens-issue/#35fdba54536e

5 Steps For Adding Digital Assets To Your Estate Plan

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

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

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

1. Make an inventory:

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

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

2. Include digital assets in your estate plan:

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

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

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

3. Restrict access:

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

4. Include relevant hardware: 

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

5. Review service providers’ access-authorization functions:

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

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

Keep pace with technology

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

Remarrying In Midlife? Avoid Accidently Disinheriting Your Loved Ones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenario #2: Accidentally disinheriting your spouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing families together

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

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

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

6 Things You Should NOT Include In Your Will

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

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

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


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

1. Assets with a right of survivorship: 

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

2. Assets held in a trust:

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

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

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

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

3. Assets with a designated beneficiary: 

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

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

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

4. Certain types of digital assets:

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

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

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

5. Your pet and money for its care: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t take any chances

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

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.
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