Four reasons you should work on your estate planning during the holiday season

It’s likely that you have many plans lined up for the holiday season. Drawing up new estate planning documents or updating existing documents will hopefully be a part of your holiday schedule. If you haven’t yet given serious thought to your estate, or if you’ve been delaying necessary changes to it, please don’t delay.

The following are four reasons the holidays are ideal for estate planning.

1) You’re meeting with loved ones. If you’re meeting up with your loved ones over the holidays, it’s a great opportunity to discuss estate planning issues with them. When possible, you should discuss your estate with people you trust, so that they can give you feedback and also be better prepared to step into any future roles you’re designating for them, such as guardian, trustee, executor or beneficiary of certain assets.

2) It’s a good time of year to take stock of things. During the winter holidays, many people reflect on the past year and how their needs and priorities may have changed (in part because of major life events such as weddings and births). Your estate planning is an expression of what you want your legacy to be and how you hope to care for yourself and your beneficiaries. Think about whether your current estate plans reflect your values and priorities.

3) You’re thinking about your taxes for the coming year. As you consider the amount you need to pay for taxes on various assets (and the amount of taxes on your estate should you pass away) you might want to make revisions to your estate planning – including the formation of certain trusts to better shield your assets.

4) You’ve acquired new significant assets. Perhaps as a holiday season gift, you now have a new car or a new home, or you’ve acquired some other valuable item. How will you include these in your estate plan?

Be sure to contact us to make the most of your holiday season estate planning. We will help make sure that your estate plans are clear and thorough, reflecting your wishes and beneficial to you and your loved ones.

You’re a Trustee….Now What?

We recently posted about an article that ran in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Trouble with Trustees,” in which the Journal described the problems that trust beneficiaries can have when clashes arise with their trustees.  While the article did a great job of describing what a trust beneficiary should do to address conflicts, it did not spend much time discussing how the trustee should handle those disputes.

In many cases, being named as someone’s trustee carries a certain level of honor.  Your parents, sibling, close friend, or trusted business associate asks you to serve as the trustee for their child, grandchild, parent, or sibling because they need someone with “good sense” to manage the money for their loved one.  Unfortunately, with the honor of being trusted comes the duty of fulfilling a difficult role.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, the trustee and the trust’s beneficiaries can frequently have disputes over issues affecting the trust.  At Ford + Bergner, we have represented countless trustees in these types of disputes, but we also represent trustees before any dispute arises with the hope that we can avoid the chance for a future dispute.  We recommend the following:

1.    The Trustee should regularly contact the Trust beneficiar(ies) to find out if there are issues that he needs to address.

2.    The Trustee should prepare an accounting every year and make copies of the accounting available to the Trust beneficiaries.  The accounting provides good information to the beneficiaries, and it puts them on notice to contact the trustee if they perceive that there are any problems.

3.    The Trustee should regularly meet (quarterly or semi-annually) with the financial advisors managing the trust’s assets to confirm that investment objectives are being achieved.

4.    The Trustee should employ a reputable estate and trust attorney to represent them through the entire length of their service as a trustee.  Although it seems like serving as trustee should just require “good sense,” it is a minefield of potential problems that need the expertise of a competent attorney.

Ford + Bergner represents trustees on a frequent basis.  If you find that you are the trustee of a trust, we would be glad to represent you in any current dispute with a beneficiary or in administering the trust correctly to avoid any future disputes.