Estate Planning: Mistakes or Misunderstandings

Top Estate Planning Mistakes or Misunderstandings – And How to Avoid Them

We have all heard the phrase: nothing in this world can be certain in life, except death and taxes. As an estate planner, I address these two issues every day. I counsel clients on the best strategies to pass their estates to their loved ones, how to efficiently manage their affairs if they can’t make decisions for themselves, and advise them on the most financially efficient ways to accomplish their goals. With nearly 20 years of estate planning experience, I have collected a list of common mistakes or misunderstandings.

#1. DIY Documents.

Estate plans should not be considered a “Do It Yourself” endeavor. With the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you ensure that you’re considering all the issues, your planning goals are met, and your legacy will be easily passed on to others. Wills completed through automated computer programs or purchased at stationary stores may result in negative financial and substantive impacts to your loved ones.

#2. “I Don’t Need an Estate Plan.”

Everyone can benefit from an estate plan. Even if you think you don’t own anything, everyone should have a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. Did you know that if you don’t create your own individualized estate plan, then the state of Oregon has a “One Size Fits All” plan for you? Unfortunately, Oregon’s “One Size Fits All” plan doesn’t meet the customized needs of many people, and it can lead to unintended consequences.

#3. Choosing the Wrong Decision Maker.

Many times, a parent will want their adult children to work together to make financial and medical decisions when the parent can no longer do so. Unfortunately, in my experiences, many times these types of plans don’t work well. Instead, when siblings disagree, an impasse may occur. In the worst-case scenario, litigation may be the only solution to resolve the conflict. Other times, people choose a friend for help, and then for a variety of reasons, the friend is no longer able to help. And on occasion a trusted person turns and becomes a financial abuser. Picking the right decision maker, aka fiduciary, is very important and should be a well-informed and thoughtful process.

#4. Thinking a Will Avoids Probate.

Probate is a court supervised administration of a decedent’s estate. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think probate is the 9th level of Dante’s Inferno; and as an attorney, I am very familiar with the rules of court procedure. For certain situations, probate is a beneficial process. But time and time again, clients have the misunderstanding that their wills are not subject to probate. They are shocked when they learn that a will almost always ensures that an estate will be probated. To avoid probate, consider creating a revocable trust.

#5. Letting Your Plan Collect Dust.

Having a plan, but not looking at it again is a mistake. Estate planning is a dynamic process. The plan should not be chiseled in stone and then set on a shelf, never to be thought of again. In general, I recommend that clients review their estate plans every five years. And sooner if there have been significant life changes, such as marriages, divorces, births, substantial changes in assets, medical diagnoses, etc.

#6. “I’m Not Rich, So I Don’t Care About Estate Taxes.”

Thinking you don’t have enough to be concerned about estate taxes (also known as “The Death Tax”) may be a mistake. Even if you own less than $11.58 million which is the 2020 amount when the federal estate tax hits, your estate may still be subject to state estate tax. Both Oregon and Washington have state level estate tax. Without specific tax planning, an Oregonian who dies with a net worth more than $1 million has exposure to Oregon estate tax. The same is true for Washingtonians. However, Washington’s amount is more generous at $2.193 million in 2020.

It is never too late to prepare an estate plan. If you have more questions or want to talk about your estate planning goals and needs, contact one of our estate planning attorneys. Our combined years of estate planning experience is over 130 years.

Be sure to check out SYK’s newest video – featuring Anastasia and focusing on Estate Planning.

Anastasia (Stacie) Yu Meisner is a member of the SYK Estate Planners practice. Her practice focuses on estate planning, mediation, probate, trust and estate administration. In addition, she also works with guardianships and conservatorships, as well as business transactions and formation.

Top 5 Tips From My Service as a Pro Tem Judge

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With the growing divide between judicial budgets and the demand for court services, Oregon continues to look to part-time judges to help bridge the gap. These part-time judges are known as Pro Tem Judges.

As a private attorney serving as a Pro Tem Judge in the Washington County Probate Court, my public service has been a privilege and honor. And having one foot in both private practice and one inside the Court has provided me with a unique experience. The following 5 tips are specific to my familiarity of the Washington County Probate Court, but most of these tips are good best practices to apply to any probate matter in an Oregon court.

  1. Always respond promptly to an inquiry from the Court. And remember the Golden Rule by treating all Court personnel, from security guards and clerks to judges, as you would want to be treated. Those recommendations seem obvious, however I’ve seen attorneys who fail to do both.
  2. Docket important filing dates. Don’t wait for the Court to inform you that an Inventory or Annual Accounting is late. The Court is extremely busy, and each time the Court has to unnecessarily touch a file, the progress of every attorney’s filings are negatively impacted.
  3. When you are making a request from the Court, such as unrestricting an asset, the issue should be addressed in the pleading’s narrative, the prayer, and the proposed Order.
  4. Vouchers in the form of checks must be supported by complete evidence. In other words, copies of both the front and back of negotiated checks, and copies of voided checks should be submitted in numerical order with the Annual Accounting. And any missing or incomplete vouchers should be explained to the Court.
  5. As a general best practice in Washington County, seek approval from the Court before using debit and credit cards. And electronic transactions should be evidenced with statements and the relevant line items highlighted.

Please note, due to COVID-19 Oregon’s probate courts are staffed with only a small number of personnel who are focused on administrative and the most urgent judicial matters such as emergency conservatorships and guardianships.

As a result, I have not served as a Pro Tem Judge since the end of March. Not only have I missed helping attorneys and their clients with their probate matters, I have also missed experiencing the diversity of people in our community who utilize the Court. I look forward to the day that I get to roll up my sleeves and to actively serve as a Pro Tem Judge again.

Anastasia (Stacie) Yu Meisner is a member of the SYK Estate Planners practice. Her practice focuses on estate planning, mediation, probate, trust and estate administration. In addition, she also works with guardianships and conservatorships, as well as business transactions and formation.

Stimulus Checks Incorrectly Sent to Deceased People – What To Do Now?

The recently passed CARES Act included many provisions to provide economic aid, relief and stimulus for America. As a part of the new law many Americans will receive stimulus checks officially called Economic Impact Payments.

US citizens and permanent residents qualify to receive $1,200 for single and head of household filers, and $2,400 for married couple filer, with an adjusted gross income (AGI) up to $75,000 for individuals who file as single or married filing separately, $112,500 for head of household filers, and $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns. Reduced amounts will be sent to those who have a higher AGI. However, those with an AGI over $99,001 for single or married filing jointly, $136,501 for head of household, and $198,001 for married filing jointly, will not receive any money.

Recently, I have received calls from my clients who have received checks from the IRS that are written to family members who have died. And my clients want to know if they can keep the money. The answer is no.

The IRS has been incorrectly sending money to deceased individuals. The stimulus checks are only meant for people who are still alive. If you receive a check from the US Treasury payable to someone who is deceased, then you need to send back the entire payment. The exception is if the check is made to joint filers and a spouse is still alive. Then only a portion of the payment needs to be returned.

If you received a paper check, then write “Void” in the endorsement portion on the back of the check. The IRS requests that you include a note stating that you are returning the check because the person named on the check is deceased. Please do not staple or clip the note to the check, and don’t bend the check. Then send the voided check and note back to the IRS. If you live in Oregon or Washington, the address to use is Fresno IRS, 5045 E. Butler Ave., Fresno, CA 93888.

If you have already cashed the check, then send the IRS a cashiers check or money order for the same amount as deposited. The check should be made payable to the U.S. Treasury. And then on the memo line write 2020EIP and the deceased person’s social security number. Then follow the same procedures as addressed in the previous paragraph.

For more information, please see: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center#more

If you have more questions or want to talk about the CARES act or other estate planning issues, contact one of our estate planning attorneys.

Anastasia (Stacie) Yu Meisner is a member of the SYK Estate Planners practice. Her practice focuses on estate planning, mediation, probate, trust and estate administration. In addition, she also works with guardianships and conservatorships, as well as business transactions and formation.

The Pandemic Makes the Power of Attorney More Important Than Ever

“Have a financial Power of Attorney. And a health care Power of Attorney, also known as an Advance Directive. These legal documents are terrific tools to help navigate the typical administrative run around that we all face”.

Do you have a loved one living in a care facility and due to Covid-19 they are not able to leave? Or are you self-isolating in your home and unable to run your typical errands? Are any of your or your loved one’s financial or medical needs being unmet due to the Coronavirus? If so, you’re not alone.

I recently received a call from a daughter whose elderly mother was stuck in a care facility.  Both the daughter and her mother were befuddled because all of the mother’s financial affairs were on hold.

As a general practice the daughter would organize her mother’s monthly bills and go through them with her. She would help her mother write checks to pay her doctor co-pays, her cable bill, etc. Also the daughter would join her mother on calls to manage her mother’s banking and investments needs.

Now the daughter can’t visit her mother. And both women wanted to know if they would be in trouble with bill collectors or at the very least pay a lot of late fees if they were not able to timely address mom’s financial affairs.

My advice in these types of situations is to have a financial Power of Attorney. And a health care Power of Attorney, also known as an Advance Directive. These legal documents are terrific tools to help navigate the typical administrative run around that we all face with banks, doctor’s offices, investment companies, etc.

With a financial Power of Attorney the mother could officially grant her daughter with the legal authority to manage and help with her financial affairs.  And the daughter would be able to write the checks and make calls for her mother.  With an Advance Directive it would be much easier for the daughter to talk with her mother’s doctor and other health care providers.

Even though we may never have another Covid-19 pandemic that impacts everyone, life happens and you never know when you may not be able to address your affairs because of an illness or injury.  We never know when we may find ourselves or our loved ones in one of these situations. So it is incredibly important for all adults to have both a financial and medical Power of Attorney naming someone to speak on their behalf and manage their affairs.

These are documents that are not just important for older adults. They are important for young adults too. I have seen a number of young adults injured in accidents and unable to manage their own affairs. Many headaches and delays could be avoided with a little advance planning.

If you have more questions or want to talk about a Power of Attorney or other estate planning issues, contact one of our estate planning attorneys.

Anastasia (Stacie) Yu Meisner is a member of the SYK Estate Planners practice. Her practice focuses on estate planning, mediation, probate, trust and estate administration. In addition, she also works with guardianships and conservatorships, as well as business transactions and formation.