estate planning quiz

Estate Planning Quiz: 8 Questions to Help You Know Where You Stand

The following quiz helps you identify weak spots in your estate planning. For many people an estate plan just means a will, but oftentimes that is not enough to accomplish the goals you have or to protect your loved ones. Honestly answering these 8 questions will help you know if your plan needs more work.

  1. How old is your will? (Changing life circumstances, such as marriages, divorces, etc. can impact old wills.)
  2. Who would manage your finances if you had a stroke?
  3. Is your legal and financial information organized and easy to find?
  4. Do you know whether your estate would avoid probate court? (A time-consuming and expensive process.)
  5. Do you know whether you will owe estate taxes?
  6. If you have an IRA or Annuity, do you know when (or if) your family will have to pay taxes on it?
  7. If something happened to you tomorrow, would your family know what to do?
  8. Are your loved ones (kids, grandkids, etc.) as good with money as you are?

If you don’t know the answers to some of these questions, it’s time to learn more about effective estate planning.

Here are some next action steps to take:

  • Explore our website. Our website is here to be an educational resource to anyone who wants to learn more about effective estate planning. We are passionate about helping people plan because we see the good that can come of it when it’s done properly, and, unfortunately, we see everyday the heartbreak that ineffective (or no) planning can cause.
  • Sign up for our e-newsletter. Our bi-weekly newsletter aims to help people learn more about planning and learn more about Edwards Group. Through this weekly email we share insights and stories about proper planning and why it’s so important. We also know that trust is vital in forming a strong relationship with our clients, so we help people get to know us by sharing things like vacation pics from David‘s latest family trip.
  • Attend a free workshop. Education is a core foundation of Edwards Group, so in addition to our website and e-newsletter, attending one of our free workshops is another great way to learn more about effective planning. This value is so important to us, that you will receive $200 off your Initial Meeting fee just for attending our introductory workshop on estate planning — Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started.
  • Get started today. If you’re ready to jump right in and get started, all you have to do is call us and schedule an Initial Meeting with an attorney. At the Initial Meeting, we will review your concerns and goals, then the attorney will help you understand the unique risks facing your family. Call 217-726-9200 and one of our team members will happy to help you get started.
  • Hope things will just work out. This is, frankly, the easiest thing to do, and sadly, the worst thing you can do for your family. Estate plans aren’t really about you and what happens when you die. They are about what type of life your family will have after you’re gone. Procrastination is the greatest threat to protecting your family. We have designed our process to make it as easy as possible for people to take the next step, but we can’t pick up the phone for you… If the unthinkable happens, will your lack of planning make things harder on your family?

As always, we’re just a phone call away. If you’re unsure of what your next step should be, or even if you need a next step, we’d be happy to chat with you on the phone. We are passionate about helping families just like yours, and it is all we do everyday.

Season Tickets and Estate Planning: When Is It Time to Reevaluate?

The email from the University of Illinois said, “We still have not received your payment to renew your 2012-13 Men’s Basketball season tickets.” But that still didn’t change our decision.

I always had season tickets during college and most of law school. And after a bit of a break, started them again in 2003. But, as life unfolds, situations change and priorities change. Now with kids, 2 and 5, along with a busy law firm, plus trying to find time for my wife here and there, it just didn’t make sense to continue the tickets. As most of you may have noticed last year, we gave an awful lot of them away just because we couldn’t go to the games.

As life unfolds, we need or want different things. And, here comes the estate planning connection: as life unfolds, the type of estate plan you need may change. If you have an old will or trust, it might not fit you as well as it once did. Here are some things in life that should lead to a review of your plan:

  1. Inheritance
  2. Death of a spouse
  3. Changes in your health
  4. Marriage or divorce
  5. Children with marriage problems 

We are here anytime you need a review of your plan. Like I always say, “Estate planning is ALL we do ALL the time!” Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to set up an appointment.

Helping Our Kids to Be Prepared Never Ends

“No, I don’t want you to take me on my first day. I want to ride the bus!”

That wasn’t what my daughter said to me last week before going off to Kindergarten. That’s what I told my mom when I started Kindergarten back in the 70’s.

Bailey’s question was, “Daddy, what will we do in Kindergarten?”

She reached a big milestone last week when she started school just a few blocks from our house. It’s hard to believe she’s already old enough. As a parent, I want to prepare her for what’s ahead. But providing school supplies, a lunch box, new clothes, etc. was only part of getting her ready for what’s ahead. How do we get her ready to face new people and new challenges she’s never experienced before? One of the things Michelle and I did was tell her what we remembered from Kindergarten (all those years ago!) and tried to help her picture what to expect.

As parents, we do our best to prepare our kids for Kindergarten and other new life stages as they’re growing up. But how well have we prepared our kids to deal with our aging or death? Will our plan make it easier and less stressful for our family when the time comes? Or will it leave them feeling stressed, anxious and underprepared? The choice is yours to make, but you don’t have to create a plan on your own. Everyday we help people develop comprehensive estate plans that anticipate any issues that may come up. It’s all we do everyday. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to set up an appointment, attend one of our FREE workshops or sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to learn more.

What can Hollywood teach us about estate and trusts?

My excitement about estate planning is typically only shared by other attorneys or advisors, but it seems that Hollywood is catching on to how interesting estate planning can really be.

 

The Descendants

This new movie, starring George Clooney, tells the story of a long-standing family land trust in Hawaii. It looks really interesting and is definitely on our list of things to see. Check out more about it here.

Hawaiian Trust Ends After 107 Years

The movie, The Descendants, is quite similar to a real life situation involving trusts holding land in Hawaii that recently ended after 107 years! Get the fascinating details of the true story here.

The Ultimate Gift

Another movie to check out is The Ultimate Gift. When young Jason Stevens’ grandfather dies he thinks he’s just getting cold hard cash, but he ends up with much more. This movie with James Garner, Brian Dennehy and Abigail Breslin will help you think about how estate planning can impact lives, far beyond just financial. Find out more at http://www.theultimategift.com/

And if you find yourself at home with nothing better to do, you could always check out Investigation Discovery’s new show The Will, which looks at famous estate disputes. Whether we like to think about it or not, estate planning is all around us and affects everyone at some point in their lives. Show your loved ones how much you care by establishing a thoughtful and effective plan. Call us at (217) 726-9200 to schedule a free initial consultation today!

The Unique Planning Needs of Women

Women today have many unique situations that require special treatment when it comes to estate planning. Well, maybe not special treatment, but women need to take extra care that they are protected through good planning. Here are some examples:

Young mom stays home with the kids

Maybe she gave up a wonderful career to be a full-time mom; maybe she’s even a homeschooling mom. If something happens to her husband without good planning, she may be forced to go back to work and send the kids to full-time school/preschool. A will, a trust and plenty of life insurance will provide the protection she needs.

Newlywed helps put husband through medical school

She put her own education on hold to work full-time knowing that once he’s got the MD she can go back to school and do whatever she wants. But if her husband dies without a plan, she may be left without a breadwinner and without the education she planned to get. Add a baby to the mix, and you really have a stressful situation. The husband’s student loans die with him, but so does the income they had counted on for the future.

Homemaker left out in the cold

She never worked outside the home, but she took care of (pampered, really) her husband, 3 children and now 7 grandkids. If her husband dies without a plan, she may be left with a mortgage, a car loan, horrible job prospects and a tiny social security or monthly pension. Even if they did have plenty of money, she is left with the stress of trying to sort out all the financial details, which, for their 45 years of marriage, he had always taken care of with their accountant, financial advisor, etc. Now it’s dropped in her lap, and she doesn’t know the first place to start. It’s overwhelming.

Single, career woman

In her mid-50’s, she’s doing well for herself — saving for retirement and enjoying life. Suddenly she has a stroke. Without a plan, she has nothing in place to govern who will manage her money or care for her if she becomes disabled. The hospital social worker tries to contact her nephew in Texas, but she’s not seen him for 10 years, and he knows nothing of her situation or goals. She has friends who might be willing to help, but she’s never discussed it with them. And she never took legal steps to give them the power to help. Now a difficult situation goes from bad to worse.

2nd marriage

After getting divorced, she was single for 20 years while she raised 3 kids on her own. Now, at age 70, she’s met someone and married him. She sold her house and her furniture to move into his house. After a few very happy years, she’s shocked to find him dead of a heart attack. She’s even more shocked when his kids demand that she move out of the house and threaten legal action is she doesn’t. Now she is left with finding a new place to live, buying new furniture and trying to restart her life. He had promised to take care of her, but he never took the legal steps necessary to do that.

These stories are based on the real life stories of clients we help every day! And I would much rather help people on the front end of planning and avoid all the heartache that happens if planning isn’t done properly ahead of time. If you’re a woman concerned about your future, please call us at 217-726-9200 today and schedule your FREE consultation with us! We’re here to help, and planning is ALL we do!

Start Protecting Your Kids Now

“I know we need to do a will or trust, and name guardians for our children, but the potential cost is a real concern.” — Jennifer P.

People often ask us how much it will cost to do a plan. While we realize this is the number one concern for young families, we can’t really answer that until we meet with the family and learn more about their situation. Every situation, and every family is unique. I can say that we’ve never turned a young family away because they couldn’t afford to do planning.

At Edwards Group we work with young families to come up with a solution they can afford. We offer flexible payment plans and even accept credit cards. I have a young family myself, so this is something I’m very passionate about.

Get Started for FREE

You can also start planning today without hiring an attorney. This is especially easy to do at our firm. Here are four things you can do right now:

  • Attend our free workshop, “Kids: What Parents Need to Know About Wills, Trusts and Guardianship,” on October 26 at 4pm.
  • Download our Kids Guardianship Kit, and learn about the 4 types of guardianship and how to choose a permanent guardian for your kids.
  • Schedule a free consultation with me. That’s right! You can meet with me for FREE. We’ll sit down, discuss your situation and then I’ll make suggestions for creating an effective plan to protect your kids. Just call our client coordinator at 217-726-9200.

How much would you pay to keep your kids safe?

We understand that planning can be difficult for young families, but we also know that when something’s important, there is usually a way to make it happen. I have a friend who was in graduate school with two young children. Money was really tight, but she still found a way to scrape together money to buy the best car seats money could buy! Why? Because they might get into an accident, and the children might need that protection. Estate planning is the same way. You hope you’ll never need it, but when the time comes, you most definitely want an effective plan in place.

I believe our process is the best parent-focused estate planning in Central Illinois, and I want everyone to learn about it. Pass along this email, and bring a friend to our upcoming workshop, “Kids: What Parents Need to Know About Wills, Trusts and Guardianship” on October 26 at 4 pm. Just call 217-726-9200 to RSVP.

Flying to The Netherlands

For 10 days my family and I recently took a vacation to the Netherlands to visit my wife’s relatives (from a previous post you may recall that she is Dutch). We had some apprehension about flying 8 hours with our three children, ages 7, 4 and 2! Despite our fears, the flights were uneventful. We even got to jump to the front of the security check-point lines because we were traveling with children.

The time we spent in the Netherlands was wonderful. It was great to visit my wife’s Mom, sister, and extended family. Our children (especially the 7 year old) had a fun time pointing out all of the differences between the Netherlands and the United States. One of the differences that he liked the most was the fact that they have traffic lights just for bicycles.

As I prepared for our vacation, I thought of how flying on an airplane often motivates clients to prepare Wills and other estate planning documents. Of course, statistically speaking, you are much more likely to die in a car crash on the way home from work then you are in a plane crash (1 in 5,000 vs. 1 in 11,000,000)! So why does flying motivate people? Researchers in psychology have found that when we have control (like when we’re driving) we’re less afraid, and when we don’t have control (like when we’re flying) we’re more afraid.

Fear can motivate people to act, but it can also keep people from taking action. The estate planning process can seem like an intimidating process. By allowing David and I to walk you through the process, you are actually taking control of your future and the future of your loved ones. When you finish the process and have that control, the relief you feel will be immense. You will no longer have a fear of what happens when I die or become disabled. You will have a plan in place that achieves your goals and gives you true peace of mind.

Planning with Life Insurance

We often use life insurance as a tool in helping clients. Life insurance is important in many estate-planning situations, such as the following:

  1. A young family. To help raise the kids and get them through college if a young parent dies.
  2. Business owners. A buy-sell agreement between partners in a business is important. But the agreement may not work without some cash to pay off the owner’s family. Life insurance helps provide that cash.
  3. Blended families. In a 2nd marriage with a new baby? But the husband already has grown children? Life insurance allows him to leave funds to his older children at his death, but still provide for the new baby and his new wife.
  4. Estate taxes. For our clients who are concerned about estate tax, life insurance is almost always considered in reducing it. Why? Because it gives more leverage. For instance, you can give $13,000 to your child (without any gift tax liability). However, if you instead use the same funds through a life insurance trust, that money may buy $1 million or more in death benefits. Proper planning will use pennies on the dollar to transfer money to your family without estate taxes.

QUICK TIP: If you have an old life insurance policy, you should consider having your financial advisor review it. You can probably get a better policy now. (One with more death benefit and a lower premium.) Why? People are living longer than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago. So, that makes life insurance cheaper.

WARNING: You may have heard that life insurance is tax-free. Life insurance benefits are free from INCOME TAX. However, they will be subject to ESTATE TAXES at your death. If you are concerned about estate taxes, then more life insurance will only make the problem worse. There are specific estate tax planning strategies that we can use to keep the life insurance out of your estate.

Need to have your plan reviewed? Do you know whether your plan has adequately considered life insurance options along with the legal strategies? Call us to set an appointment at 217-726-9200. We will send you our Personal Information Form to fill out and return prior to your meeting. At our first meeting, we will discuss your family’s situation, what planning options may be best, and what it would cost to develop a comprehensive plan.

Brand new to planning and not sure how life insurance could impact your plan or family? Make plans to attend one of our upcoming workshops, Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started. At this 1.5-hour workshop you’ll learn about 6 common pitfalls of planning, which of these pitfalls are a risk to you and your family, and what you need to do to make sure you don’t leave a mess for your loved ones. Call us at 217-726-9200 to RSVP for the workshop.

Pre-nups, Not Just for Divorces Anymore

What does a pre-nup have to do with estate planning? Let me tell you. A pre-nuptial, or pre-marital agreement, outlines how a married couple will handle their assets. It covers more than what happens in a divorce. If we assume the couple will be happily married forever, here are still at least 2 situations that may need planning ahead:

  1. Who will pay the household expenses during the marriage?
  2. How will the assets be divided at death?

As an estate planning attorney, I am working on more and more pre-nups. Here is an example of a situation:

A couple, both in their 50’s, are planning to get married. One is a widow, the other is divorced. Both have accumulated some assets and are having success in their careers. Each of them has a couple of kids. How important is it that their assets end up with their kids, rather than the step-kids? Without planning ahead, it will be very easy for the assets to go to the wrong people. How? Suppose they buy a house or hold bank accounts in joint ownership. The family of whoever dies first will lose those assets, unless the survivor voluntarily shares it with the kids. (Read more about Asset Protection HERE.)

They can protect their wealth and their kids by signing a pre-nup, having an up-to-date trust or will, and paying close attention to asset titling (what we call the “funding” of an estate plan). Then they can have peace of mind while living “happily ever after.”

Who do you know that’s engaged? Particularly if it’s the second time down the aisle, it really is best for everyone to consider a pre-marital agreement. Plan ahead now, and avoid the stress and heartache for the family later.

Your Bucket List for Estate Planning: Why a Trust Might Be Right for You

A recent movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson inspired a lot of people to think about their bucket list – the things they would like to do before they die. While a trip around the world in a sailboat may seem a lot more exciting and glamorous than estate planning, thinking about what you want at the end of your life financially, and for those you love, can be even more important than achieving your bucket list. Join me as we explore a different kind of bucket list – one that will insure your loved ones, and the things that you’ve worked so hard for, are protected.

What is a trust?
When most people hear the word “trust,” they probably think of families like the Vanderbilts or Hiltons, but trusts are not just for the ultra wealthy. Established during the Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries to protect the rights of landowners while away on their journey to the Middle East, trusts are still relevant and vitally important to the work I do everyday in helping my clients achieve their goals. You needn’t be a Rockefeller or a wealthy Englishman to benefit from the level of protection that trusts can offer in our modern life.

Why are trusts important?
I want you to think of a trust as a bucket. And what are buckets good for? They are helpful to put stuff in. When you create a trust, you are in essence creating a legal “bucket.” By placing assets like houses, vehicles, timeshares and farmland into that trust “bucket,” you are insuring that those assets will be managed according to your wishes, which will be written in the trust agreement by you and your legal advisor. Unlike a will, trusts can help protect and manage assets while you are still alive, but disabled in some regard.

How are trusts used?
So, how do you put stuff into the trust bucket? By directing assets into it, such as retitling bank or investment accounts, doing a deed to your house or farm, or changing beneficiary designations on life insurance. For everything that is in the trust bucket, you leave a set of instructions written in the trust agreement. You also name someone to carry out those instructions. That person (or bank or trust company) is called the trustee. The person you choose as trustee to manage your trust “bucket” has a fiduciary duty, which is one of the highest duties in the law, to carry out your wishes and do what is best for you – not what is best for them. They have to act in your best interest. If they don’t act properly, they can be taken to court.

The most important thing for your plan is to think about what you want to accomplish. What are your goals – for yourself and your family? Once we choose the goals (and I help clients do this nearly everyday), then we can see what tools will best accomplish those goals. A trust can often be the best tool to carry out goals such as:

  • Avoiding the delay and expense of probate court.
  • Transferring assets privately after death. (As opposed to a will, which is a public document.)
  • Protecting assets from a divorce or lawsuit.
  • Giving clear instructions for managing your money during your disability.
  • Organizing assets so someone else can help manage them.
  • Protecting assets from being used for nursing home costs.
  • Leaving money to someone who is too young or too unwise to handle it by himself or herself.
  • Avoiding estate taxes.
  • Preventing family fights regarding a family farm or business.
  • Balancing the wife and kids in a second marriage.

A trust is just one of the legal tools we at the Edwards Group use to carry out your goals and dreams. Our other tools include wills, powers of attorney, living wills, contracts, and deeds. A trust is one of the best tools we have to carry out your wishes and plan for a time when you might become incapacitated or pass away suddenly.

Remember, a trust is nothing more than a tool. It’s not a magic document. All it can do is carry out the instructions written in it. And the only assets it governs are those you actually put in the “bucket.” Call us today to schedule an appointment and get started on your bucket list!