david edwards estate planning elder law

Stop Thief! 10 Things That Can Steal From Your Estate

If you’ve ever been robbed like I have, you know that awful feeling of violation and loss of control. More than the material things that are stolen, the loss of peace of mind and sense of security can have lasting effects.

When I had just started practicing law, I came home one night and saw muddy footprints on the carpet. I thought, “When did I track in mud?” Then it hit me — someone had broken a window and robbed my apartment! They didn’t get much; I didn’t have much for them to take. When it comes to your estate, there is a lot at risk.

As estate planning attorneys, we can’t protect your home, but we will work to protect your wealth and your legacy — protect it from thieves who could steal it.

What Is Robbery?

Robbery is when something of value is taken. When talking about estate planning, you can be robbed of money, but also so much more. You can be robbed of peace of mind, relationships, or even memories. There is a lot at stake if you don’t plan ahead.

Ten Thieves That Can Rob Your Estate

When creating a plan, it’s important to keep in mind these ten things that can do real damage to your plan:

  1. The IRS — Will your heirs pay unnecessary taxes? Well qualified estate planning attorneys should make sure your assets are set up to avoid issues like double taxation.
  2. Lack of organization — If you don’t have a plan for your wealth, you can’t control what happens to it.
  3. A spouse’s remarriage — If your spouse marries again, what will happen to your children’s inheritance? If your spouse has more children, will your wealth be divided among them as well?
  4. Your kids not being ready for wealth — If you were to die tomorrow, would your children be able to manage their newfound wealth? A thorough plan includes how much your kids get and when.
  5. Your kid’s divorce later in life — Estate planning attorneys make sure your wealth goes where you want it to go, regardless of the marital status of your children.
  6. A lack of training and communication with your family about your plan — I knew of a woman in her 70’s who lived by herself. Her husband had passed away a few years earlier. She had a daughter and two sons. One day she fell, broke her hip and had a mild stroke. She could no longer care for herself. The daughter who lived in town began to help her out. This daughter was never very good with money, but the family thought it made sense to grant her the Power of Attorney because the other kids lived out of town. As the daughter continued to care for her mom, many items from the house disappeared. Her brothers thought she was taking the stuff, but she adamantly denied it. Unfortunately, after the mother’s death, the siblings never spoke again.
  7. A lack of professional guidance you can trust — A very blessed man had been married 30 years to the love of his life. She was never considered a “stepmother” but a truly loving mom to his children. He completed a “do-it-yourself” estate plan. When he passed away, the family found his plan vague, confusing and lacking detail. His wife remembered him saying, “You’ll never want for anything.” His kids remembered hearing, “You will be treated fairly.” As the plan unfolded, both his wife and his kids thought the other side was being greedy and not honoring his wishes. On the brink of court, after two years and lot of legal fees, they compromised and settled the dispute. Sadly, the stepmom and the step kids never spoke again.
  8. Future lawsuits or liability — If you own a business, is your liability insulated from the business’ liability? What happens if your beneficiaries are ever sued? Estate planning attorneys can provide answers and solutions for these types of issues.
  9. Nursing home costs — The skyrocketing costs of aging in America necessitate your plan include provisions for long-term care for you and/or your spouse.
  10. Outdated legal documents — Effective estate planning attorneys help you keep your plan current so it can do what you intend for it to when the time comes.

What Would You Do If You Knew a Thief Was Coming?

When my old apartment was robbed, I didn’t expect it. It just came out of the blue. I have a friend who was in a different situation a while back. She lived in a great neighborhood. It was always very safe and quiet. But there was a time when houses started getting burglarized. Week after week, it was someone else. Would her house be next? She couldn’t know for sure, but she took steps to protect herself by installing a security system.

Nobody likes to think about it, but Benjamin Franklin told us only death and taxes are certain in this life. You know the time will come eventually. What estate planning “security system” do you have in place? If something isn’t right with your plan, would you even know it? Effective estate planning attorneys create and review existing plans to protect all you’ve worked so hard for.

3 Things That Can Ruin Your Estate Plan

Don’t be caught with an out of date will. Keep the 3 L’s of estate planning in mind.

You’ve finally finished creating your will with your attorney – congratulations! It’s a big undertaking. You’re probably thinking it’s time to stash it in a safe place and forget about it. As long as your attorney has a copy, you’re okay right?

Wrong.

It’s important to update your will at least every three to five years (sometimes more often as laws or circumstances change). Taking the time to update your will can ensure that your legacy gets passed on according to your wishes and can also eliminate family disputes upon death. If you’re not sure whether your will needs to be updated, it’s best to follow the 3 L’s of estate planning. Many of the changes any estate plan faces can be summed up by examining the following 3 things: life, law and learning.

Life

What has changed in your family, your health, your job status or your finances since your last will was created? Have you purchased property or a business? Have you sold a business or property? Have you purchased a new car, boat or art? A lot can happen in 3 to 5 years, especially as we age. A great example would be if a divorce or remarriage happens within the family. This can impact family members emotionally and can restructure family organization. A timely update to your will can help you avoid family conflict and lengthy court time for your family after you have passed away. Life changes warrant an updated will. (When it comes to life changes, don’t forget your beneficiary designations on things like life insurance!)

Law

What legal or tax changes have occurred in federal or state law since your will was drafted? Have your federal tax laws changed? Have your inheritance or death tax laws changed? These are all questions to consider as your will ages. Changes in federal or state law can directly impact your will. Changes in the law warrant an updated will.

Learning

What have you learned since your last will about your family and how they handle money? Perhaps you’ve learned that your beneficiaries mishandle their own money and tend to overspend. Or maybe they’ve gotten a big promotion at work and seem too busy to allot time to executing your will. What legal strategies do estate planning attorneys have now that may not have been available or common when you did your last will? Learning new things can warrant needing to update your will or trust.

If it has been some time since you last thought about your will, it’s probably time to consider an update. Life happens, laws change, and the most effective estate plans continue to evolve over time. If you have questions or concerns about your existing will, please feel free to call us at 217-726-9200 or email us at info@edwardsgroupllc.com with your questions. We will be more than happy to help you. If you’d like to learn more about our Dynasty Program, which helps Edwards Group clients make sure their plans are up to date and evolve over time, click here.

The St. Louis Rams & Beneficiary Designations

When the rules are in writing, you have to follow them. Unless you’re the NFL. 

I am a St. Louis Rams fan. Loyal from the time they arrived in St. Louis after failing to get a new stadium in Los Angeles. Like all Rams fans, I was really upset when they left St. Louis, even after witnessing a decade of historically bad football.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, the lease the Rams had allowed them to relocate to Los Angeles this past January. The Governor of Missouri appointed a task force to try and negotiate a new, long-term stadium deal to keep the Rams in St. Louis. The task force ultimately came up with an actionable proposal on a new riverfront stadium for the Rams.

But after the proposal was submitted, the NFL’s assigned committee recommended that teams in San Diego and Oakland (two cities that essentially had no stadium proposals) be allowed to move to L.A., instead of the Rams. Throughout the task force’s work, it appears the Rams’ ownership was uncooperative. They did not meet with the task force, talk to the media, or talk to the fans. All of this was in apparent disregard of the NFL’s relocation guidelines requiring good-faith negotiations and attempts to maximize fan support in their current home community.

In spite of all this, the league allowed the Rams to relocate to L.A.

It seems laughable to suggest that the NFL relocation guidelines were followed. An owner who refuses to take part in negotiations is not negotiating in good faith, and an owner who refuses to talk to fans or the media for four years after his intention to move has become public, is not operating in a manner that would maximize fan support.

As the Rams made the number one pick in the NFL draft this year, the fans in Los Angeles got to cheer on their new quarterback. I thought to myself: based on the NFL’s own guidelines, he should have been St. Louis’ new quarterback. I didn’t like seeing something end up in the wrong place because it seems unfair. 

Estate Planning Involves Written Rules That Have to be Followed

Unfortunately, we see unfair things all the time in our firm. In the estate-planning world, unlike the club of pro football owners, we can make written rules and trust that they will be followed. Unfortunately, too often people don’t pay close attention to the rules that are put in place through their own plans and beneficiary designations.

For example, in 1996, a man named Warren Hillman named his wife as beneficiary on his federal employee’s life insurance policy. They later divorced, and Mr. Hillman remarried four years later, but he never updated his beneficiary designation. When he died, his widow sought to claim the payout, but she was denied because she wasn’t the beneficiary. The dispute over that policy made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2013 the court ultimately granted the death benefits to the ex-wife because she was the listed beneficiary. (Read about more court cases involving problems with beneficiary designations on life insurance policies here.)

It’s pretty easy to picture an ex-wife enjoying money that a widow thought was rightfully hers; the same way I picture the fans in L.A. enjoying the sun and the Rams. Every day, we help clients coordinate their beneficiary designations with their estate plan to make sure everything ends up in the place you desire. After you’re gone, the best way to make sure your family knows your wishes is to leave them in writing. 

Be Sure to Update Your Beneficiary Designations in Writing

Your things (and your family) are far more important than a football team. Therefore, it is vitally important that you make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date and your estate plan is current.

Life is constantly changing, and when it does, your plan needs to be updated to reflect those changes. At Edwards Group, we have a special program that helps make sure your plan stays up to date. Read more about our Dynasty Program here.

If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your plan, give us a call at 217-726-9200 or plan to attend one of our upcoming workshops.

 

 

IRA

7 Questions to Ask In Order to Do Effective IRA Planning

IRA planning can be tricky. In order to make sure you plan as best as you can, you should discuss the following questions with your attorney and other advisors:

1. Will you need the IRA funds during your life? If not, you may want to convert to a Roth or use the RMD’s to purchase life insurance to grow the wealth going to your family.

2. Will your heirs need it shortly after your death? If so, then the stretch out is not relevant.

3. Are you doing any charitable giving? If so, use the IRA to do it, if possible. That way the contribution is tax free.

4. Do you want to protect what you are leaving to family from their future divorces, lawsuits, creditors, poor judgment, wild spending, etc.? If so, you need protective trusts for each of your heirs. An IRA can go to a properly set up trust and still get the “stretch out”.

5. Are you facing estate tax at your death? If so, you need careful planning to avoid a double tax. An IRA subject to both estate tax and income tax can sometimes lose 75% or more to taxes!

6. Are you in a 2nd marriage? His kids and her kids? If so, be careful leaving your IRA to your spouse. You want to balance out your wishes for your kids with your desire to provide for your spouse. You can’t assume you can leave the IRA to your spouse who will later leave it to your kids. First, it may be spent and gone. Second, your spouse has every legal right to change the beneficiary after your death (to his/her own children).

7. Is your IRA (or other tax deferred retirement plan) a large percentage of your total estate? If so, then even more is at risk. You need careful planning, and it’s vitally important you consult with a professional.

Effective IRA planning is very important in effective estate planning. Give us a call today at 217-726-9200 if you have any questions, or check out one of our upcoming workshops to find out more about effective planning.

Estate Planning is Like… Dave’s Favorite Sweatshirt

I have a piece of clothing we simply call “my favorite sweatshirt.” I think it’s about 20 years old. I may have had it when I graduated from law school in 1995. If not, I got it shortly after that. (The picture to the left is from 1998.) We have a family friend who swears I was wearing it when she first met me in 1997.

It’s gotten a lot of use over the years. Especially on Christmas! What else does a guy grab to wear when relaxing over the holidays? His favorite sweatshirt, of course.

Looking back at Christmas pictures this past year, you could see the sweatshirt showing up year after year… after year.Dave sweatshirt 2006 small

It’s still my favorite sweatshirt. But I fear its days are numbered. The “Illinois Law” is getting more and more faded. The ends of the sleeves are unraveling and ripped. But it’s so soft and comfortable!

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About 10 years ago, I got a “replacement favorite sweatshirt.” Same design, same color. I still have it, but it’s somewhere in the back of the closet. It looks the same (a little brighter) but it definitely doesn’t feel the same. So it doesn’t end up getting worn.

20 years ago my favorite sweatshirt was new. I bought it at the bookstore at the U of I College of Law. Now it’s ragged and my wife has grounded me from wearing it outside the house.

A lot has changed in 20 years — for my sweatshirt, for me, for our family.

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How about you? What has changed in your life in the past 20 years? Has your estate plan kept up with the changes?

Life is constantly changing. And that means your plan needs to be regularly updated. With our Dynasty Program, things like that happen automatically. When you’re on your own, it’s very important to regularly assess what updates might be needed.

Most changes any estate plan faces can be summed up by the 3 L’s: life, law and learning. Read more about that and whether your plan is out of date here.

Take Action Now: Update Your Beneficiary Designations

It is vitally important that you review all your beneficiary designations (life insurance, 401(k)s, etc.) every 2 years, or sooner in cases of births, deaths, marriages, divorce, job changes or retirement. Read on to see real court cases that show why it is so crucial.

We talk about beneficiaries A LOT around here, and the following court cases will show some of the reasons why, but first, let’s review what a beneficiary is and why it’s so important.

There are a few financial planning tools that are not passed down in wills. Things like life insurance and 401(k)s are passed down to whomever you write on the beneficiary designation form when you sign up for them. And sadly, many people NEVER change those names ever again despite the changes in their life circumstances. There are a significant number of people who take the time to care for their loved ones by taking out life insurance policies, but then don’t pay attention to who really owns it or who the beneficiary is. The tragic consequences of this oversight, impact those they love most.

Life is not a fairytale. Things do not automatically work out for the best. The law is the law, and therefore, will not be swayed by what seems reasonable for your family. These two federal cases illustrate that:

In Hearing v. Minnesota Life Insurance Company, a single father named his sister as beneficiary of his life insurance policy so the sister could take care of the daughter. He intended to change the beneficiary to his daughter once she turned 18. But he never got around to it. Sadly, the father died and the sister claimed the life insurance. Despite a handwritten note stating that he wanted his daughter to be the new beneficiary, the court found that the only thing that mattered was the name on the beneficiary designation. The sister, not the daughter, got the $100,000 pay out.

Again, in The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company v. Ruybal case, we have another “sister” situation. A single dad named his sister beneficiary because she was supposed to take care of the kids. Upon death, the decedent’s sister, his executor, and the two daughters all claimed the life insurance. The court ruled in favor of the sister, noting that, “Anyone attacking the right of a named beneficiary to receive the proceeds of an insurance policy has the burden of proving that the beneficiary is not entitled thereto.” In other words, the sister was on the form – plain and simple. Would it have been more fair for the estate or the daughters to get the money from the policy? Probably. But it is not the duty of the courts to do the reasonable thing. It is their duty to uphold and interpret the law. It is your duty to keep up to date with your beneficiary designations.

As you can see in each of these real-live cases, the court ordered payment to the named beneficiary, even to the detriment of the children of the deceased.  The clear message from the courts in these decisions is that the named beneficiary of a life insurance policy will get the death proceeds regardless of what other competing claims exist, or what one’s sense of fairness seems to dictate.

This means the burden is yours to keep up with your beneficiary designations. It is vitally important to make sure they are up to date. At the very least, you should review your beneficiary designations every 2 years. But in the case of the following life events, you should review your beneficiary designations right away:

  • Family events such as births, deaths, marriages and divorces all should trigger a review of ALL beneficiary designations.
  • Work events such as changes in business, change of job or retirement ALL should trigger reviews.
  • External events such as significant tax changes or other legal changes should also trigger a review.

Some mistakes are just not fixable. Please, double check your beneficiary designations if you have not done so recently. Edwards Group clients can rest easy because we help make sure assets are set up properly (and stay that way through our Dynasty Membership program). Join us for an introductory workshop to hear more about how we can help with estate planning.

Advice for Those Who Haven’t Planned Yet

Michelle and I don’t gamble very often. But when we do, watch out!

A few years go, the kids went to the grandparents’ and we spent the weekend in St. Louis. We were staying near Laclede’s Landing at a new hotel near the Lumiere Place Casino. The evening after we checked in, we headed out to do some serious gambling.

We stopped at the penny slots and started playing. About 10 minutes later, we hit a big jackpot! Being up all of $12, we decided to quit while we were ahead.

Do you enjoy gambling? We find that most of our clients don’t like to roll the dice about their planning. Instead, they want to tie it down so they can have real peace of mind.

Not planning ahead to protect your family and your assets is gambling.

What will happen if you die suddenly? What will happen if you need long term care?

Leaving things to chance is a gamble and the losses can be HUGE.

With good planning, you can have real peace of mind and not gamble that these vitally important things will just work out. By planning ahead, you can avoid these 4 hardships:

1. Stress. You wouldn’t purposefully place extra stress on your spouse or your kids, would you? But a lack of planning on your part can do just that, leaving everyone to wonder, “What should we do? Who do we contact?” Good planning makes it easier on your loved ones by providing a clear plan.

2. Delay. Messy estate plans take longer to wrap up, causing the stress and extra work of an estate to drag on and on. Good planning helps things get wrapped up as quickly as possible.

3. Conflict. Lack of planning can lead to arguments in the family. Arguments between siblings, between step-mom and step-kids, between nieces and nephews. Good planning will make it easy on the family, making less to fight about and less stress that can lead to conflict.

4. Loss of life savings. Lack of planning can result in the loss of your wealth — to the nursing home, to probate expenses, to taxes, to creditors or to wild spending by your heirs. Good planning will protect what you have worked so hard for.

If you’re interested in learning more about effective planning, check out one of our upcoming workshops. They are a free and no pressure way to get started! And, as always, if you have any questions at all or are unsure of what your next step should be, give us a call at 217-726-9200. Tarina would be more than happy to chat with you.

Get comfortable — no high-pressure sales tactics here

I remember a phone call I had with a company who sells software to law firms. Their product seemed like something that might be helpful, and I was interested to learn more. I spent an hour on the phone with this guy and things looked good — until the salesman ruined it.

In the last 5 minutes he got really pushy. I told him to give us a couple weeks to think about how this would fit with our firm and then check back with us. But he wouldn’t let it go. I’m sure he was following some sales training tactics he had been taught. Those tactics completely backfired.

I don’t want to be pushed into something I’m not sure about. I like to have time to think things over before I spend money. And I think most everybody feels that same way.

Nobody wants to be pressured into buying something they don’t really want or need.

And that’s one thing you’ll find about Edwards Group if you get to know us — I’m not a very “good” salesman. And I don’t want to be.

Why?

Because I don’t really want to sell you anything. What I want to do is educate you about the ways we can help your family.

We do things a little differently around here. Not everyone is a good fit to work with our firm. That’s why we focus so much of our attention and effort on making sure you’re educated about your options and the way things work before any payment is ever exchanged.

Because I’m not a good salesman, you don’t have to worry about being put in an uncomfortable situation or being coerced into agreeing to something that isn’t a good fit for your family.

Because I’m not a good salesman, you can be sure that if you decide to work with us, we’ll form a great team who can work together to protect your family.

And because of that, you don’t have to worry about wasting your hard-earned money on a plan that doesn’t fit your family or was designed with another family in mind. Each of our plans are designed in collaboration with you, with the unique needs of your family as the guiding force in the process.

We understand that meeting with a lawyer can be intimidating. That’s another part of the reason we’ve designed our process the way we have. We don’t mind if you take a little time to get to know us first.

Our free, no pressure workshops are a great way to learn more about the planning needs your family may have. They are also a great way to get to know our firm better. If, after attending a workshop, you would like to take the next step, you will receive $200 off your initial meeting fee.

Not ready to talk to a person yet? We have put a lot of our time into developing a website that contains helpful information about all aspects of planning. You’ll find hundreds of articles about estate planning, trusts, Veterans benefits, Medicaid and Medicare on our website. Feel free to use the search button to quickly get to what you need.

No matter what, I hope that you will take the time to learn about ways to protect your family and your assets. The other side of our practice involves helping people who didn’t plan properly clean up the mess that’s left behind. My sincere desire would be for every family to have effective planning strategies in place and for no family to have to experience the effects of bad planning. Take a step in the right direction today by attending a workshop, giving us a call, or signing up for our weekly email newsletter.

3 Estate Planning Questions to Start 2014

Fresh starts are really nice sometimes. “Out with the old, in with the new” can be energizing. Many people procrastinate when it comes to their estate plan, thinking, “Oh, I’ll never really need it.” But the truth is, everyone will need one at some point.

Why not start off the New Year with some peace of mind and take a minute to reflect on the state of your plan? Here are 3 things to consider heading into this New Year:

  1. Should your plan be changed to reflect changes in your life? Like a change in marital status or the birth of a child or grandchild.
  2. Did you acquire any new assets in 2013 that might impact your plan?
  3. Are your executors and trustees still the right people for the job?

There are many other considerations, but these three are a good start. As always, if you have any questions at all, feel free to call our office. We’d love to speak with you. And be sure to check out our upcoming workshops.

Can your estate plan pass the Down Low test?

What a Child’s Game Can Teach us About Planning…

In our house, the “Down Low, Too Slow” game is very popular. It goes like this:

Give me five (hand slap)

Way up high (another hand slap)

Down low (pull hand away before it can get slapped)

Too slow!!

It always gets a laugh out of the kids. Even after the 10th time in a row!

“Up High, Down Low” is also good estate planning advice. A good plan will include:

  1. NOW – look at your situation, finances, family. What are your goals and risks?
  2. UP HIGH – look at the older generation. When the older generation passes, will they be leaving you an inheritance that could create estate tax problems for you? Will they face nursing home costs that could impact the family? Will their lack of planning give you more stress later or more conflict with other siblings?
  3. DOWN LOW – look at your kids and grandkids. What is their financial situation? How will an inheritance impact them? Will they be ready for it? Will your daughter-in-law spend it all? Will it lead to extra taxes for the kids?

A good estate plan considers those older and younger than you. If you’re not sure about the state of your plan, give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’ll be happy to chat with you.