siblings equal

6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Treat Your Kids Equally

We have a common saying with our kids, “Fair doesn’t mean equal.”

Many of us want equality to be synonymous with fairness — maybe because it seems easier to make things equal than to navigate the complexity of fairness. But think about raising kids. Did you make sure everything was equal?

I doubt you kept track of each dollar spent to make sure it was the same for each child. One child may need braces, while the other has straight teeth. One may need money for music and sports, while the other doesn’t have an interest in those types of things. One child could have health issues and another doesn’t. One could need help with college, while another gets a scholarship. We provide our kids with what is appropriate and what we think they need, regardless of whether it is equal.

And the same should be true of your estate plan. Sometimes, it is okay to treat your children “unequally” because this really may be the fairest approach.

Here are six instances in which you might not want to treat your kids equally when it comes to your plan:

  1. Greater financial need. One of your kids may need more help financially. Kids are not equal in terms of their financial success or ability to succeed in a career. One of them may simply need more than others because of their financial situation.
  2. Health needs. A child (or even a grandchild) may have health needs that result in increased costs. Health issues can also limit one’s work options or earning potential, therefore making their need for financial assistance greater.
  3. One may not need it. For instance, if a disabled child already has their basic needs taken care of through government benefits and healthcare, then it could make things harder for that child to receive money from your estate. If you are confident that siblings will help provide for any extras this person may have in the future, you may be able to disinherit that child without affecting their quality of life.
  4. Some are better stewards. If one child has consistently made bad financial choices, and you have repeatedly bailed them out, it might make sense to leave them less because you are not confident they would use it well. Or, if you do decide to leave them a similar amount, you may want to take steps to protect their inheritance with specific rules, and someone to help manage it for them. (But not a sibling!)
  5. Early inheritance. Quite often adult children have a significant financial need and parents give them substantial help. After this happens, it might be good to consider adjusting the amount that child would receive in an inheritance. When this situation occurs, without adjusting the amount left in the estate, the child who didn’t need help often feels they are being punished for never needing help.
  6. Family farm or business. One child may rely on the family farm or business for their livelihood. If one child has spent a lifetime helping you grow your farm or business, it may be best to leave them more of the total estate so their livelihood is not negatively affected.

Some people still can’t get over the “unfairness” of leaving “unequal” amounts to their children. If you decide to leave equal amounts to each child, we encourage you to consider leaving specially tailored rules for each child, so the inheritance can be handled more fairly.

Protecting Our Kids From Threats

Another important part of an effective estate plan is helping protect our kids from threats. Whether it’s their own wild spending, a future divorce, a lawsuit or financial problems, an effective plan can help anticipate and mitigate these types of challenges. Some kids are more exposed to threats than others. Some kids are better able to handle money than others. The rules you create for your plan need to reflect that. As a parent you should feel free to handle things how you think best, without being tied by guilt into making everything exactly equal.

Involve Your Kids in the Planning Process

We often encourage our clients to involve their family in the planning process. This is especially important when considering leaving “unequal” inheritances. Effective communication with your family about why you have decided to do things the way you have can eliminate a legacy of misunderstanding, misinterpretation of your actions, and pain that children experience when parents don’t communicate about the plan ahead of time.

We have seen many adult children upset by their interpretation of their parents’ plan when the parents leave behind no explanation for their rationale, or fail to discuss ahead of time why they’ve chosen to do what they have. Estate plans can seem like a final accounting of a parent’s love. Because of this, it is really important to do the hard work of communicating with your family, either ahead of time or through your plan.

As with many estate planning matters, this is a complicated one with best solutions varying from family to family. We can’t possibly cover all the nuances in one blog post. Our process walks families through difficult decisions like whether to leave equal amounts to your children in your plan. You have the knowledge about your unique family. We are the experienced guide that helps create an effective plan based on that knowledge. If we can be of assistance to your family, please give us a call at 217-726-9200. If you’d like to learn more about creating an effective estate plan, we encourage you to attend our next introductory workshop, Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started. It’s a great first step towards peace of mind and protecting those you love.

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.

 

 

lottery ticket

How NOT Winning the Lottery Makes Your Life Easier

Big changes in your life may require updates in your estate plan. What kind of big changes? And what should you do about it?

by Attorney Chris Flynn

I didn’t win the Powerball, either…

And that’s okay. Can you imagine how much life changes after something like that? The good news is, since I didn’t win the largest jackpot in US history, the things I’m doing now, and the planning I’ve done for later, don’t have to change at all. I’ve worked with several clients recently though, who have gone through big changes in their life, some of whom have received an inheritance (typically less than the recent $1.5 billion jackpot), bought a new house, had a loved one get married, or become disabled.

Any of these types of changes in your life could mean that you need to update your estate plan.

We frequently help clients update their plan after big life changes. By updating your plan periodically, you ensure that:

• any new money or wealth will go where it needs to go instead of being eaten up by things like nursing home costs or taxes.

• any planning you did based on your prior home is also done for your new (or second) home.

• your child’s inheritance can be protected in a trust where things like future divorces, long-term care costs or creditors cannot “steal” it away.

While we often help clients who already have done planning elsewhere to update their plans, our Dynasty program has proven to be a simple and cost-effective way to make sure our clients’ plans are always up-to-date. Through this program, we follow up with our clients regularly to confirm that their plan is up to date with the law, but also that their plans capture any changes that have occurred in life, health or assets.

Even more important than updating your current plan, is making sure you have a plan in the first place. Our Intro to Edwards Group: Wills & Trusts Orientation is a perfect way to get started if you don’t have a plan (or if your plan is quite old – read about the risks of an old will here). Give us a call at 217-726-9200 and RSVP for one of our upcoming educational workshops. By attending a workshop, you’ll receive $200 off your initial meeting fee (if you schedule your appointment within 30 days of the workshop). We do this so you’ll know, before spending your hard-earned money, if we’re the right firm for you. Attending a workshop makes the planning process easier and more effective.

The greatest threat to an effective estate plan is not taking any action at all, so take a step today and call us t 217-726-9200.

Not Your Best Option: Life Estate Deeds

So, what are life estates or life estate deeds?

Sometimes, instead of using a trust, people will use a life estate deed to try and protect a house or farmland. This means they deed the land to their kids but reserve the right to still use the house or the farm as long as they are living. Because all of the instructions are contained in the deed itself, it can sound like a nice, simple solution. Life estates can seem like a cheaper and easier alternative to a trust…

But life estate deeds do not always work as advertised.

A Life Estate Case Study

The house had been put into a life estate a while back. The mom was now in a situation where she needed more care and was going to a nursing home. The family wanted to sell the house, but if they sold the house, then a percentage of the house would be considered an asset for the purposes of Medicaid. Even with good legal planning, some of the funds would have to be spent on nursing home costs, and the ultimate goal of planning is to protect your hard-earned money and assets (like your house) that you hoped could be a legacy for your family someday.We recently had a situation here at the office that is a good example of why life estates are generally not a good option.

4 Reasons Life Estates Don’t Work

1. They don’t protect ALL the value. People are surprised by how much of the value of their house or property is still considered theirs if they need Medicaid. This is all governed by a Medicaid table. (See it here.) So, what are the exact problems with life estates and why don’t life estate deeds “work”?

Here’s how that works: if someone is 65-years-old, Medicaid says that almost 68% of the house is still considered yours. At age 70, 60.5% is yours. At age 80, 43.66% of the value of the house still counts as yours. 

So what does this mean? It means that if you are 70-years-old, have a stroke and need to go to a nursing home, when your house is sold then 60.5% of the house sale money stays in your name and is exposed to long term care costs. This is true even if it has been more than 5 years since the deed was done.

2. You don’t own or fully control your house or property anymore. If something unexpected happens and you “need” to sell the property, you can’t without getting the kids to sign off on it, because they actually own the property. You don’t own it anymore (even though you have the right to use it for the rest of your life).

3. You can’t change who gets it after you are gone. With a deed, it’s a done deal. The house goes to your kids at your death — no matter what. There is no way to change it. So, if your child dies before you do, you can’t reconsider who the house or property goes to. It will go through his or her estate and be completely out of your control (even though you have the right to use it for the rest of your life).

4. Life estate deeds could prevent you from getting VA benefits. The VA sees things differently and assumes that any income interest or life estate you might have are entirely yours (and therefore counted as an asset). Depending on the situation, this could cause you to be denied VA benefits. For instance, farmland with a life estate would typically prevent VA benefits without further planning.

 What’s the Solution?

In contrast to the above issues with life estates, nest egg trusts can effectively address all of these issues:

• They can protect 100% of the value once 5 years has passed.

• You can be the trustee of the trust where your farm or home is kept, which means you can sell the property, buy a different house if you want, etc.

• You can reserve a rewrite power (called a “power of appointment”) so you can change who gets it at death. That way, if circumstances change, you can respond to them appropriately.

• A trust can be set up to allow VA benefits or be adjusted later to qualify for VA benefits.

Trusts are one of the best tools that we have in our legal toolbox to help clients, and our firm is one of the best at setting them up. If you are considering a life estate deed, please give us a call first to see if there are better options available for your unique situation.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about estate planning or elder law, Medicaid planning, long-term care planning or Veterans benefits, please give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’d be more than happy to speak with you!

 

6 Ways to Save the Family Farm

older couple in field web version

When you pass away, what will happen to your farmland? Maybe it’s land that has been in your family for generations.

Without a specific estate plan in place, the land is at risk. You may even know families like that – where they lost part of the land to estate taxes, family disputes or creditors. The best way to lose the farm is:

•Don’t do anything. Just die and see what your kids and the courts figure out.

•Leave it to your kids in your will, without the instructions or protections of a trust.

How to Protect the Family Farm

Many of our clients own farmland, and we understand how important it is to protect that land, taking into consideration things like:

•Who is operating the land now, and who will operate it in the future?

•How do we treat all children “fairly” even if the land is not going to all the children?

•How do we avoid estate taxes at death? Particularly with the dramatic increases in land values.

There are 6 specific things that can be done, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, to protect and save the farm for future generations:

1. Plan ahead for long-term care. The biggest threat to your farmland is the future need for long-term care. Nearly 70% of people over the age of 65 will need some sort of long-term care, and it’s usually quite expensive.

2. Assist in choosing a good “helper” who will manage the farm well.

3. Coordinate financial tools such as life insurance, to make things “fair” between the farming and non-farming kids.

4. Minimize capital gains taxes now and at the next generation by using a trust or well-timed transfers to kids.

5. Use a “nest egg” trust to avoid long-term care risks that can result in liens being put on the farm or even loss of the land altogether.

6. Create protections from kids’ divorces or financial problems that may arise in the future.

Let us help your family prepare to transfer farmland smoothly, the way you want, while avoiding taxes. Call our office at (217) 726-9200 to find out more about ways we can help you protect your family farmland.

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.

What’s Your Next Step in Planning?

Bailey has noticed that I talk to other cars a lot when I’m driving. When someone’s being slow I might say, “Come on out there, buddy, pull right out there.” Or “come on, you can do it,” when they hesitate just a little too long before pulling out so I can go.

As with just about everything in life, this reminds me of planning. No matter how much I talk to the other drivers in those cars, it doesn’t really do a whole lot of good. And that’s just like planning. Talking about planning doesn’t actually do any good, unless you do something about it. Whether that’s nursing home planning, estate planning, death planning, life care planning or special needs planning, talking about it or even coming to workshops and learning more doesn’t do any good unless you move ahead.

So what’s your next step in planning?

1. Attend a workshop – If you already know a little bit about planning, and want to know what it would be like to work with Edwards Group, we encourage you to check out one of our workshops. In addition to getting valuable information about the process, you’ll get to meet David and have the opportunity to ask him questions. We have two workshops going right now:

Intro to Edwards Group: Wills and Trusts Orientation – This workshop is the first step towards protecting your loved ones. You’ll learn about the 4 main reasons most estate plans “just don’t work” and how our process avoids these problems. You’ll also learn how we guide you through the process every step of the way and how our fees are structured. And just for attending this 60-minute workshop, you’ll receive $200 off our Initial Meeting fee. Click here for upcoming dates.

Life Care Planning: 13 Costly Misconceptions About Healthcare and Aging – This workshop expands upon our free Family’s Guide to Elder Law discussing 13 costly misconceptions about healthcare for your aging parents, the 6 stages of Life Care Planning, what long-term care insurance will and will not pay for, how to avoid losing control of your assets, when your parents should consider a reverse mortgage and when they shouldn’t, and much more.

To attend one of our free workshops, all it takes is a call to Tarina at 217-726-9200 to reserve yourself a spot. (Our workshops tend to fill up, so we want to make sure everyone has a seat.)

2. Call to schedule your Initial Meeting – At your meeting with David Edwards, which usually lasts about 45 minutes, we will review your concerns and goals. Dave will also help you understand the unique risks facing your family. Clients find this meeting to be very valuable in helping them understand their options. By the end of the meeting, you should understand your planning options, what they will cost and whether Edwards Group is the right firm for you. There will be no hard sale. We want all of our clients to feel comfortable before starting to work with us. It’s one of the keys to drafting a successful plan.

Did you know that Tarina was a client before she started working at Edwards Group? And one of her favorite parts of the job is talking to people who have questions or might be a little nervous about starting the process of planning. If you have any questions at all, she’d be happy to chat with you. Just give her a call at 217-726-9200.

3. Help your friends and family learn more – If you’ve already worked with us and had a positive experience, we encourage you to share all you’ve learned along the way with friends and loved ones who might need to know what you now know. One of the easiest ways to do this is by requesting our free guide:

Family’s Guide to Elder Law – In this free guide you’ll learn 13 costly misconceptions about healthcare for your aging parents, 6 stages of Life Care Planning, 12 reasons not to give your property to your kids right now, 7 essential questions to ask so your parents have an effective plan for the last decade of life, 3 smart ways to increase your parents’ monthly income and bring peace of mind, 6 ways to get good care without going to a nursing home, 20 red flags that signal when your will or living trust are out of date, and much much more. Just give Tarina a call at 217-726-9200 and she’ll send one out to you.

The most important part of creating an effective plan and achieving peace of mind is actually taking a step forward. Many people think about planning for years… and then all of a sudden it can be too late. Effective planning is much easier achieved before a crisis hits.
Which next action step do you need to take today?

Estate Planning is Like… Working a Puzzle

Bailey and I bought some puzzles at our neighborhood garage sale a while back. We started work on a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle of Mickey Mouse and Goofy, but something was wrong. Pieces were missing — a lot of pieces! In fact, we counted and there were only 57 of the 100 pieces there. We did what we could, but the puzzle was useless and ended up in the trash.

This reminded me that estate planning is just like a puzzle. And you know how much I like to compare everything in life to estate planning! (Read how estate planning is like your favorite board game here.) If you’re missing pieces in your plan (or you got a “bargain” on your plan) then your life can be thrown into chaos when someone dies, faces a stroke or struggles with dementia and needs to go into long-term care. Our process is so thorough that we make sure there are no missing pieces to the puzzle. When the time comes to use your plan, all the pieces will be there in working order. No surprises.

The best way to find out if your plan has all its pieces, and to see if Edwards Group is right for you, is to attend one of our Intro to Edwards Group workshops. At this 1-hour workshop you’ll learn why you need a will or trust, the 4 reasons why most plans don’t work, and how our process avoids these problems. Check out the upcoming dates here and be sure to call Tarina at 217-726-9200 to save yourself a seat. And just for attending this free workshop, you’ll receive $200 off your Initial Meeting Fee if you decide to schedule one.

If you have nagging doubts about your plan, or huge worries that you don’t even have a plan, give us a call today and take your first step towards peace of mind.

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.