The Secret Life of Pet Trusts is a Heartwarming Tail!

A few weeks ago, I took my kids to see The Secret Life of Pets. It was cute, fun and the kids loved it. Of course, when I take my kids to the movies, my elder law brain has to go with me. So, spoiler alert, there was a pet in the movie who had an older owner who had died. This put the pet in a vulnerable position.  Wacky hi-jinks ensue, and all is well at the end.  But my brain goes to, wow, this pet could have really benefited from a pet trust so that in the event of his owner’s death, he would have a responsible human and funding to take care of him.

Now fast forward.  I recently supervised a Will signing and I’m happy to say there was a pet trust included.  In New Jersey, like in many states, there are statutory provisions for funding a pet trust during life or in your Will. There are also nonprofit organizations such as the Associated Humane Societies Inc. who will accept pets, and you can make an arrangement with them for the pets to receive lifetime care. Kitty City is one example of these kinds of places.If you want to include a charitable bequest or pet trust in your Last Will and Testament, it’s important to be specific, provide all important details, and have the name of the charitable organization precisely correct (to avoid disputes between different charities).

If you are an animal lover, take advantage of this!  Make sure that the not-so-secret lives of your pets are provided for in your estate plan!

Call us for estate plan advice and to prepare trusts for your pets … 732-382-6070

Tell your Executor where you’re keeping your Will

Recently I got a call from the child of a client of mine who had just recently passed away. The child was panicky because they could not locate Mom’s Last Will and Testament. Mind you, this particular Mom was a very organized person. Bills were always paid on time; the house was meticulous; papers were looked at, dealt with, and either filed, scanned  or discarded. The Mom had reviewed and updated her estate plan just two years ago, and had informed the children just what the plan was. But they couldn’t find the original document.

I’ve gotten plenty of calls like that over the years. The problem is that only the original Will can be brought to the Surrogate for probate. Until the Last Will and Testament is probated at the county Surrogate, the probate Estate — which is all the assets owned by the deceased person that aren’t co-owned, and have no beneficiary — is in limbo. The person named as executor cannot act. A house can’t be listed for sale, bank accounts can’t be touched, stocks can’t be sold. The probate process is a quick and easy process in New Jersey,  but without an original Will, the plan so carefully crafted can’t be implemented without a court proceeding. Most legal problems have a remedy, and there are some interesting published cases concerning Wills that were lost, such as the Estate of Erlich. But these cases can consume a lot of time, and all the heirs have to be given notice. That means that if there is dissension in the family,  the situation invites a fight.

This same principle applies to other estate plan papers — we had a case once where the Deed said the property was titled in the name of a Trust, but no one could find any trust documents! We couldn’t even tell from the deed whether it was a revocable or irrevocable trust.

So pick a safe and sensible place to store your original Will, and make sure your Executor knows where to look for it when the time comes.

Call us to review or update your estate plan, and for trust and elder care planning … 732-382-6070

Family Estate Planning to Protect Children with Special Needs (part II)

Parents of children with special needs are typically aware that their child may need to be financially eligible for important governmental programs through Medicaid, SSI or the DDD. Under these programs, there is an limit on the amount of assets the child can have. These parents will often consider (1) leaving the child’s share of the estate in a supplemental needs trust, or (2) not leaving anything to that child and asking their other children to provide supplementation when necessary from what they wkill inherit.

Unforseen circumstances could prevent even your best-intentioned child from supporting or supplementing their special needs sibling after you are gone. Your daughter could have debts or legal poblems of her own. Her spouse may object to transferring the inheritance for support of the sibling. Your son may need to pay for college expenses for his own children. And so on. By directing a portion of your estate into a supplemental needs trust, you can protect money for your special needs child and guarantee that the funds will be there solely for this child’s benefit no matter what happens to other family members.

Your own parents may be grappling with the same issue. Consider recommending to them that they put an SNT into their own Wills so that any inheritance by a special-needs  grandchild goes into the Trust. Remind them, though, that not all discretionary trusts would qualify as a special needs trusts.

They may also want to consider create an SNT now, which they  can fund over time, so that for instance, if they make a gift to other grandchildren (to reduce the size of the taxable estate), they can also make a gift for benefit of the special needs grandchild. They could direct a percentge of their annuities or tax defered accounts into such a trust (with all required language of course). They could direct a percentage of life insurance to that trust. The special needs child may have several different relatives who would want to provide funds for him, and they could all transfer gifts into that trust.  So this kind of trust is established during your parents’ lifetime  (an inter vivos trust) and is funded during or after lifetime, or both. The trustee can be a family member or a suitable bank, brokerage trust service, or nonprofit organization which administers such trusts.

Estate planning outs you in control of the arrangements, beacause you make the plan. Planning for the fuiture in this way gives everyone involved peace of mind.

For estate planning that meets your family’s special needs, call 732-382-6070

Thinking of retiring? Review your estate plans

As you begin making your plans for retirement, don’t neglect to prepare or update your estate plan. Your plan may be decades-old, or maybe you never even signed any documents for a plan. It’s a good idea to start thinking about a variety of issues at this time. Here are some of them.

It’s important to sign  a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care proxy to designate the person who will handle your finances and make your medical decisions if you become incapacitated. The risk of disability startes increasing in the post-retirement years. You need to have this protection so that the family doesn’t have to rush into court to get a temporary guardian appointed to handle these matters for you. It’s also important to make sure your Will matches up to your current situation. There is nothing “simple” about a Will — you need a plan that effectively enables your wishes to be carried out. 

Do you care for a dependent or disabled child? What plans do you have to ensure that someone can step into your shoes to oversee their care? Where will your child live? Do you want them to stay in the house? How will the house expenses be paid for? Will there be funds that are specifically earmarked in a trust for the child’s benefit, or will the child  be dependent on the good will and fortune of the remaining family members? What if any of them falls on hard times or passes away? What kind of trust is required? In other posts I’ve talked about selecting trustees. [insert]

If you are the legal guardian, is it time to ask the court to appoint one of your other children as co-guardian with you, “just in case” you become infirm?

You may be starting to do estate tax planning and transferring assets to your children. If your child receives Medicaid, SSI or other means-tested benefits, this could be a good time for you to establish and fund a Supplemental Benefits Trust for your child.

Each of these issues takes special attention. Thoughtful planning can help lead you into a good retirement.

Call for appointment for estate planning as retirement approaches … 732-382-6070