Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When Probate Matters

This morning I received a call from a son who just loss his mother to cancer. I expressed my condolences and we proceeded to discuss the reason for his call. His mother, who was very meticulous and maintained very good records of her finances, died without a Will. As you can imagine the drama unfolds from this point.

There are 3 children and they have at least agreed that the son who made the call to me could serve as the Administrator of the Estate. If that had not been agreed upon, the administration of the estate could be significantly delayed. Of course there are other issues that could have been avoided with a Will.

(1) The mother wanted her eldest son to have her extensive art collection - NOT - (they do not agree)
(2) The homestead still has a mortgage on it and one daughter wants to stay in the home - NOT - (they do not agree)
(3) The mother wanted everything to be equally distributed upon her death - NOT - (she only had one of her children on her insurance policy and on her bank account)

AND THE LIST goes on. Plan now and let us help you by contacting us at

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Black History Month - Legacy of Freedom for All

What is the history behind "Jocko"?

The story begins the icy night in December 1776 when General George Washington decided to cross the Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on the British forces at Trenton. Jocko Graves, a twelve-year-old African-American, sought to fight the Redcoats. However, Washington deemed him too young and ordered him to look after the horses. He asked Jocko to keep a lantern blazing along the Delaware so the company would know where to return after battle.
Many hours later, Washington and his men returned to their horses. The horses were tied up to Graves who had frozen to death with the lantern still clenched in his fist. Washington was so moved by the young boy's devotion to the revolutionary cause he commissioned a statue of the "Faithful Groomsman" to stand in Graves's honor at the general's estate in Mount Vernon.
By the time of the Civil War, these "Jocko" statues could be found on plantations throughout the South. They were like the North Star that pointed fleeing slaves to their freedom. The Jocko statues pointed to the safe houses of the Underground Railroad. Along the Mississippi River, a green ribbon tied to a statue's arm — whether clandestinely or with the owner's knowledge — indicated safety; a red ribbon meant danger. Thus these original lawn jockey statues serve as true artifacts of the Underground Railroad that conducted so many African-American slaves to freedom.
Share a black history fact here or contact us at

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When Your Family Lets You Down

One thing, among many, my practice has taught me is all that you have control over is yourself. You really do not control, try as we might, your spouse, your children, your other family members or your friends. You only get frustrated and stressed out the more that you try.

On a daily basis, I talk with my clients about those they want to pick to serve in roles like agent, executor or even guardian. I encourage them to take those that they intend to select as they are NOW. Do not think that they might change over time to become what you want. For example, if they are not at a place NOW where you would want them to be to serve as guardian of your children, then do not select them. We can not predict the future, good or bad. All of the selections made during the estate planning process are addressed as of today. We can always make changes in the future as circumstances change. Your plan is not a static document, it evolves.

Let us help you plan correctly. Contact us at for all your probate and estate planning needs.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Signature By Mark

I have had situations where a client may be of sound mind and body but has a physical handicap that affects his or her ability to sign documents. A signature by Mark is permissible. The Mark has to be witnessed by 2 individuals and notarized. This allows the person to continue to take care of their own business as long as they are mentally able. They do not have to give that authority to another if they want to continue to manage their own affairs.

What else do you want to know about your affairs? Contact us at for expert estate planning and probate.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Hammersteins' Legacy

What's Your Legacy? I attended a booksigning this weekend. Oscar Hammerstein II's grandson has written a book, THE HAMMERSTEINS, about his family's awesome musical legacy. The book draws heavily upon the family archives, presenting a rich collection of photographs, theatre blueprints, programs and patents. The grandson, Oscar Andrew Hammerstein, has become the family historian, by studying and preserving his family's heritage and their contribution to Ameican culture.

Estate planning helps create and preserve your legacy which could be lost without having a plan. Who will maintain the memorabilia on your family's work? How will it be passed on for the prosperity of your family and maybe of the larger society as in the Hammersteins' situation.

I do believe that more people need to address their own legacy by taking the time to document the journey of their life. It is an exercise of significant worth. Contact us at for expert estate planning guidance.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Powers of Attorney and Wills for the "What ifs" and "When"

I am on the way to a Nursing Home. The reason for this visit happens all to often but could be avoided with planning. Why do we wait? What do we procrastinate?

Today, when I meet with this client and their family (generally a son or daughter), I have to first determine whether the client still has the capacity to execute specific documents like a will or power of attorney. If that huddle can not be met, then the son or daughter will have to initiate guardianship procedures to address financial matters and certain healthcare matters. The window for creating a will is now closed if the client no longers has capacity.

Unfortunately for many, when we are healthy and able bodied, we do not focus on the "what ifs" (I become incapacitated, etc.) or the "when" (death happens). However, this is the time to take care of our "business". It will save you time and money in the long run. Though I do make more when you procrastinate, that is not why I do what I do. I want families to have their documents in place for the "what ifs" and the "when". If you do, then you do not have to be addressing legal matters when your focus should be on the emotional aspects of the "what ifs" and the "when".

Contact us today at for all your probate and estate planning needs.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No Deed Too Small

I often have clients who have loss a spouse and want to know how to handle the Deed held in both names. Generally, married couples hold property as Tenancy By The Entireties. This just means that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse becomes the full owner of the property. Technically, nothing has to be done as pertains to the Deed. By operation of law, the surviving spouse is the owner.

However, many clients do prefer to remove the name of the decease spouse. When it comes time to sell or transfer the property, there is no need to explain the status of the other name on the Deed, which generally requires the production of a death certificate.

So, make sure all your Deeds are in order and have the names of only those who are currently living. Contact us at for expert estate planning, probate and elder law needs.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl - The Day After

Whether your team won are not, the Super Bowl is a great time to gather with friends and family. That is just what we did on Super Bowl Sunday. We had great food, wonderful friends and exciting entertainment.

Of course these days the Super Bowl commercials get to be legendary as well. The 2 that stood out for me was (1) Kia "One Epic Ride" and (2) Doritos "House Sitting". Like estate planning, One Epic Ride is all about knowing the past to take time now to address the future. I thought "House Sitting" raised an issue regarding cremation. What do you do with the ashes? Some folks keep them on a mantel. However, unlike being able to sprinkle doritos on them to bring someone back to life, you could inadvertently spill them. Why not have your ashes distributed over a place that has meaning for you or have them secured in a vault.

Contact us to discuss your estate planning needs at

Friday, February 4, 2011

Estate Planning Mistakes - Number Twenty-eight

The federal estate tax at the present time is 35%. This is a significant amount on any estate and there may not be any cash to pay the tax. For example, the estate value may all be in real estate or in a closely held business. Planning is critical to make sure there is cash to pay the estate tax. One planning option is life insurance.

However, if an estate is already in such a situation, no cash to pay the taxes, then extensions may be granted by the IRS. The extensions will be for a "reasonable period" for a "reasonable cause".

Get the expert advice that you need. Contact us at if you have probate or estate planning questions.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Estate Planning Mistakes - Number Twenty-Seven

If you own a business that is set up at an S Corp, you want to make sure the S Corp status is not lost upon death. If stock in an S Corp passes at death into an ineligible trust the S Election may be lost. Only certain trusts, specifically "qualified sub-chapter S trusts" and "Electing Small Business Trusts" qualify as S Corp shareholders. In order to prevent the loss of the S Election, you want to make sure your estate planning document provides the appropriate language.

Contact our offices at to get the expert legal advice that you need for all your probate and estate planning needs.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Estate Planning Mistakes - Number Twenty-Six

It is important to know that face value of your life insurance is counted towards the value of your estate for Federal Estate Tax purposes. Therefore, the value of your estate could be subject to federal estate tax because your insurance policy increases the value of your estate.

An easy way to eliminate this problem is not to own the life insurance policy in your name. Instead, have the policy owned in the name of a trust. Such trust is known as an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust. It can save your estate significantly on taxes.

Contact our office at for all your Probate and estate planning needs.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Estate Planning Mistakes - Number Twenty-Five

For those with Federal Estate Tax exposures (for 2011 and 2012 it is 5 million/10 million for married couples), you as well as your spouse should have a credit shelter trust. The Credit shelter trust/By-pass trust should be properly funded. This requires that each couple have sufficient assets in their name alone. Those assets would fund the Credit shelter trust/By-pass trust upon the death of a spouse.

If there are not sufficient assets to fund the Credit shelter trust/By-pass trust at the death of the first spouse to die, then the surviving spouse will have to disclaim a portion of his or her inheritance to allow the funding to occur. A qualified disclaimer must be executed within 9 months of the date of death of the first spouse to die.

We have the expertise to assist you in all your estate planning and probate matters. Contact us at