Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Prove you're an adult

Prove You’re an Adult with 10 Actions

I’m planning a major trip in 2020: It’s the year I turn 50, and I’m going to visit 50 places I’ve never been before. Among the fun itinerary research, I’m also taking care of more serious things, such as drafting a will and buying life insurance.

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Estate planning review

Why Review Your Estate Plan?

Life rarely remains the same and those changes mean it is time to take a fresh look at your estate plan. Time marches on and a person’s life changes. That creates the situation of there not being a doubt of whether an estate review is necessary but simply becomes a questions of when it will be reviewed, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader in “It’s important to periodically review your estate plan” Most people get their original wills and other documents from their estate planning attorney, put them into their safe deposit box or a fire-safe file drawer and forget about them. There are no laws governing when these documents should be reviewed, so whether or when to review the estate is completely up to the individual. That often leads to unintended consequences that can cause the wrong person to inherit, fracture the family and leave heirs with a large tax liability. A better idea: review the estate plan on a regular basis. For some people with complicated lives and assets, that means once a year. For others, every three or four years works. Some reviews are triggered by changes in life, including: Marriage or divorce Name Changes Death Large changes in the size of the estate A significant increase in debt The death of an executor, guardian or trustee Birth or adoption of children or grandchildren Change in career, good or bad Retirement Health crisis Changes in tax laws Changes in relationships to beneficiaries and heirs Moving to another state or purchasing property in another state Receiving a sizable inheritance Beneficiaries in need of protection due to Special Needs, creditors, or Tax Problems. What should you be thinking about, as you review your estate plan? Here are some suggestions: Have there been any changes to your relationships with family members? Are any family members facing challenges or does anyone have special needs? Are there children from a previous marriage and what do their lives look like? Are the people you named for various roles—power of attorney, executor, guardian and trustees—still the people you want making decisions and acting on your behalf? Does your estate plan include a durable power of attorney for healthcare, a valid living will, or if you want this, a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order? Has your estate plan addressed the possible need for Medicaid? Do you know who your beneficiary designations are for your accounts and are your beneficiary designations still correct? Your beneficiaries will receive assets outside of the will and nothing you put in the will can change the distribution of those assets. Have you aligned your assets with your estate plan? Do certain accounts pass directly to a spouse or an heir? Have you funded any trusts? Finally, have changes in the tax laws changed your estate plan? Your estate planning attorney should probably take a look at the impact of state law changes, as well as federal. Reference: New Hampshire Union Leader (Jan. 12, 2019) “It’s important to periodically review

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will contest or caveat proceeding

Estate Planning Attorney Can Help Avoid Family Feuds

A daughter has some problems, as siblings are hurt by parent’s estate planning intentions. With the choices you make of who you put in charge, you set the table for great or horrible results. Failing to have any plan is setting the table for controversies and fights. Families can grow together with brothers and sisters under the same roof. As time goes by and aging parents must make tough decisions, things can get difficult with feuds developing. An estate planning attorney can help the family through these difficult times, according to a Faribault Daily News article “Attorney can smooth path for families making legal plans,” The article tells of a reader who faced a problem from siblings, when the parents wanted to create a power of attorney for health and care decisions. The difficulties came from siblings who live far away but felt as if they not being included in their parent’s plans. For this particular family, one sibling lives 500 miles away and another lives 800 miles in the opposite direction. The one daughter who lives in the same community is the logical choice for power of attorney. What can be done? The parent’s foresight in updating their estate plan and related legal documents is to be congratulated. The one adult child who lives in their community, is the best choice for power of attorney for medical and financial decisions, so they can quickly handle an emergency situation. The parents have assigned the other two adult children as secondary POAs and everyone has already been informed that they will all receive equal shares in the estate. The out-of-town siblings should be happy at how fairly and expeditiously their parents are taking care of in these matters. Adults need someone to be named to handle health care and financial decisions, if they become incapacitated and need someone else to make decisions. Having a POA puts others in place to take over any tasks. Having a secondary POA designates someone to step in, if the primary is unable to act. When someone choses a POA because they don’t want to hurt any feelings, the result is often disastrous. It’s important to pick the most competent and trustworthy candidate. Some states also allow what is known as a “co-agent,” so that decisions are made together. But in an emergency, if the other person is not immediately present and time is an issue, this can lead to critical situations being unresolved. One way to soften this kind of situation is to have the entire family meet with the estate planning attorney in a family meeting. With a professional who is not emotionally tied to the family dynamics, decisions can be explained, and cooler heads may prevail. An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and help smooth over family issues, if necessary. We spend the time in consultations helping to weigh out these choices. Reference: Faribault Daily News (August 28, 2018) “Attorney can smooth

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business owner succession planning

Business Owner? Don’t Delay Estate Plan

The government will be more than happy to distribute your assets. Years ago a friend of mine told me of his final moments with his father. He was in the hospital signing documents with the lawyer and his father. Dad was on his death bed, dying several hours later. The family business went to him, as he had worked in the business for over two decades. It was what he was promised all along but did not make the final time with his Dad as he would have wanted. If that hadn’t happened, state law would have controlled, leaving promises unkept. Dying intestate will result in your state of residence deciding where your assets will go. However, it doesn’t have to be like that, because creating an estate plan will leave the decision in your hands, according to KREM.com in “Head off a small-business skirmish: Draw up your will or estate plan today.” Here’s a tale from another law office that makes it all very clear. A business owner died unexpectedly. He had never completed his divorce from his first wife after 20 years. He had been in a relationship with another woman for 10 years and they had two children together. Since he never divorced his wife, she inherited his business. No one likes to consider that they will die, or in this case, that it is really time to deal with their marital status. He probably thought he had plenty of time to plan. However, the result was not pretty. Here’s how you can avoid your own unintended consequence: Preplan. A business owner needs to do a complete estate plan, so your property, family and business will be protected, if you should become incapacitated or die. You’ll need the following: Disability insurance. This is a relatively affordable product that replaces up to 60% of your income, if injury or illness prevents you from working. Life insurance. Consider the cost of providing food, shelter, education and care for your family. How would that be replaced, if you died tomorrow? Another thing life insurance can do is keep a business alive after the owner dies. Proceeds can be earmarked in your estate plan to be used to meet business costs and spare your loved ones from selling the business for a low amount, because they need to raise funds fast. Create a succession plan. How will your business go forward without you? Have your documents prepared. Hire an estate planning attorney who can protect your business and your family. Here’s what you’ll need: A will and/or a trust. You need a will, especially if you have small children. This is because you’ll want to name guardians for them. A will does go through probate.  However, this is only true if your assets are not placed in trusts. Your estate planning attorney will create a plan that fits your needs. Health care directives. This gives a family member or friend the ability to make health care decisions, if you are unable.

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SSI recipient

How to not pick a guardian

Waiting for the perfect answer often leads to no answer at all Picking a Guardian for your children is no picnic. I am an estate planning attorney and have three children. They are now thankfully adults, and I am very proud of them. I am also one of eight children. My wife is one of 10 children.  When our children were young, we had a great deal of difficulty trying to figure out who would be the best choice for guardian if we both died. We had many candidates to choose from in our siblings alone. In my 36 years of advising young parents on this topic, I find it is often an emotionally charged “Bone of contention.” I carried a draft will in my briefcase for longer than I care to admit because we could not resolve this problem. Every time the topic came up it was an unpleasant conversation, one that was best left unresolved. That is a good way to not pick a guardian: Avoid the touchy subject altogether. Eventually, we finally figured out that although we couldn’t agree on who should be named the guardian, we could easily agree on who shouldn’t be, which left a short list. I find that this is almost always the case. A couple may not agree on who should be first and who should be second as guardian, but they can usually agree on who should be on the list and who shouldn’t. Making sure that the right people only are involved in the conversation is an important parental act. Imagine for a moment that you have died, and are now a spirit in the room, watching all the people who think that they are supposed to be guardian vying to be appointed. Exactly how would that go? Wouldn’t it be better to have only the people on the short list be in the conversation? We were able to compromise once we got there. It also often helpful to have a third party, such as an estate planning attorney, put in their two cents. Complex issues of ego and family pride that burden the parents are not baggage of the lawyer, at least not for your family. What if your child was at school and needed a ride home, but neither parent was available? Having no one handle the pick up would not seem a viable option, right? What if you were never going to be there? You need an answer to the critical question of “Who raises your child?”: it’s a paramount parental duty. An imperfect plan would be far better than none at all. Waiting for an answer to arrive which “rings true” is another problem. The only answer that rings true is that you are there to see your child grow to adulthood, as I have had the good fortune to experience. Anything short of that won’t seem right. Deciding is great, but not enough. Reducing your choice of a guardian to writing in your Last Will

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Estate plan

An Estate Plan Should be in Writing

Make plans for handling an issue, before it becomes an issue. A plan not written down is really just a wish. I wish my son could handle my affairs. I wish my friend could speak for me in the hospital if need. I wish my special needs child would be eligible for needed government aid. Without committing something property to writing, these become more of what paves the road to hell. The legal issues that may surround a health problem, can go from bad to worse if you are not protected by legal documents expressing your wishes, according to the New Jersey Herald in “The importance of putting plans in writing.” The message hits home especially hard, when the friends experience problems that could have been resolved earlier with correct planning. In one example, a woman’s friend began to experience unexpected health problems. Her husband is incapacitated and there are no children to step in and help. The couple’s lack of legal documents has made a difficult situation even worse. Although discussing concepts like end-of-life care can be challenging, all adults should have specific plans in place, even if their estate plan is basic: a last will and testament, a living will and a power of attorney. It is never to early to put these documents into place. If you are a student about to enter college, your parents ability to help or get information may disappear legally at age 18. That newly minted adult should at least have a designated power of attorney and a medical directive, in case they are unable to manage their own affairs or make healthcare decisions. Unfortunately, many people still think estate planning is only for wealthy people who want to pay less taxes. Tax planning can help lighten tax liability for some. However, there are far more important reasons to do estate planning. The main reason for estate planning is to set down expectations and wishes, while you are alive and after you pass. An estate planning attorney will help review the benefits of having a power of attorney and a healthcare directive. They can help, if the situation occurs where your loved ones have to make decisions for you. The amount of time, expense and frustration of going through a guardianship process can be avoided, if these items are in place. An estate planning attorney can also help you with completing beneficiary forms for non-probate assets, preparing a funeral plan, planning a personal property memorandum and discussing elder care and planning for incapacity. Making decisions in advance regarding who will care for minor children, if young parents cannot and who will be the person’s executor and handle all the details of their estate, are all necessary. Many couples choose joint ownership and consider that their estate planning. However, that’s not enough. What happens when the last “surviving” joint owner passes? There are many other issues that need to be addressed. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan

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using a power of attorney

Intestate Law is the State Writing a Will for You

Do you really want the state to determine where your assets end up? A key concept to planning your estate is that you already have a plan in place, whether you know it or not. If you die without a will, or die “intestacy”, meaning “without a Will”, the laws of your state essentially write a will for you. That may not result in your assets going where your would have preferred, according to The Daily News in “’Are You My Heir?’-Who Inherits When You Die Without a Will,” Each state has laws called “intestacy laws” that govern how probate assets are distributed, if someone dies without having a will and establishes the inheritance hierarchy based on a person’s family structure. For example, if you are married but have no children and no grandchildren, your estate will be passed to your spouse. If two people die and there are no descendants (children or grandchildren), their parents, if living, will inherit their assets. A child who is legally adopted has the same rights of inheritance as biological children. Children born outside of the marriage may not. If a child should predecease a parent, the living descendants of the child (if there are any) will inherit their share. In some states, heirs are limited to family members who share the same grandparents. If your family is not geographically or otherwise close, you may have heirs you have never met. Intestacy can become extremely complex, when there are children and grandchildren. Descendants inherit from their parents and grandparents in percentages dependent upon the total number of children and the number of children in each generation that follows. If a grandfather has three adult children who are living and one adult child who has passed, then the estate will be divided by three—a third each to each of the two living children and the final third to the grandchildren of the third (deceased) child. The children of the deceased child are heirs, even if the parent has died. Add non-marital children—children born outside of a legal marriage or step-children—and things start to get complicated. A court will have to determine the intestate inheritance, based on proof that the child is a descendant and if that relationship is established in a timely manner. If the father’s name is on the child’s birth certificate, that is generally enough proof of the relationship. It doesn’t matter if they have a close relationship or have never met. The same applies to marital children—whether they have been close and caring or are estranged. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and makes reliance on state law unnecessary.Reference: The Daily News (Sep. 7, 2018) “’Are You My Heir?’-Who Inherits When You Die Without a Will”

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Planning in the 50s

The 50s: A Time for Decisions and Change

If you have found your niche, now its time to take advantage of it. Are you in your 50s and now have some disposable income? It is time to take advantage of retirement planning opportunities, according to the Sioux City Journalin “In Your 50s? Do These 3 Things to Plan for Your Retirement.” Unfortunately, many people who turn 50 start thinking now is the time to retire early, go on extravagant vacations or buy themselves big ticket items that they’ve always wanted. A better approach: consider this a time to make the most of your income, keep saving for retirement and stay on a steady course. Use the catch-up options available to you. The federal government knows that many people don’t have the means or the motivation to save for retirement until later in their careers. That’s why there are several provisions in the tax laws that let you catch up, once you reach 50. You can put away an additional $1,000 above the annual contribution limit to an IRA. You can add $6,000 in annual contribution to 401(k)s and similar employer-sponsored plans after age 50. Once you pass your 55th birthday, you can make an additional $1,000 annual contribution to health savings accounts. If you’ve got the cash to spare, these are great opportunities. Educate yourself about Social Security. Many people rely on Social Security for their retirement, while others use it as a safety net. You’ll want to start learning about the rules.  When you take your first benefits has an impact on how much you’ll receive over your lifetime. Yes, you can start at age 62, but the difference in the amount you’ll get at 62 versus 70 is substantial. If you plan to keep working indefinitely, maximizing earnings is the best way to boost your Social Security benefits. Get access to savings in the early years of retirement. If you can afford to retire in your 50s, know when you can tap your retirement savings. If you’ve used regular taxable accounts to invest your savings, it won’t matter when you make withdrawals. However, if your money is locked up in 401(k)s, SEPs, IRAs and other tax favored accounts, you’ll need to know the rules. Penalties for taking withdrawals before the specified age, can take a big bite out of your retirement accounts. You may choose to work every day for another 10 years or 20 years once you’ve celebrated your 50th birthday, or start to back off. However, keeping these three key ideas in mind as you plan for the future, will help put you in the best financial state possible. If you are in your 50s, now is the time to meet with an estate planning attorney for advice on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: Sioux City Journal (Aug. 25, 2018) “In Your 50s? Do These 3 Things to Plan for Your Retirement”

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Growing Older

Growing Older-Don’t Avoid a Conversations

The talk may be difficult but may turn out to be necessary. When someone dies or becomes disabled, the people who support and love that person are often in the position of walking into the middle of a movie and trying to figure out “What is going on?” As we age, sharing information ahead of time can be a big help. It might not be the easiest conversation you have ever had. However, it is a good idea to have a talk with your loved ones about what steps to take as you go through the aging process, according to The Des Moines Register in “In 2019, resolve to have a difficult conversation.” The person who is contemplating needing help, may want to start the conversation but the person who may be called on to help may find it too difficult to consider. Who wants to think about their parents getting frail and needing help going to the bathroom? No one. The person who is starting to feel the impact of aging may already be aware of some limitations. However, talking with their children or potential caregivers may change the conversation from “someday” to “soon.” The loss of independence is one of the big milestones, just as gaining independence is a milestone earlier in life. That’s a hard thing to accept for both sides. Those who have lived through this process of needing to become caregivers say that it would have been easier if they would have known what their loved ones wanted. So, would have been knowing what kind of help their loved ones could afford. It’s better to have time to research available resources in advance, rather than operating in crisis mode. This is what your conversations need to address: Medications, physical health, emotional well-being and health care providers Their wishes, if their health declines slowly or rapidly. Do they want to stay at home? Who would they want to help with daily care? Finances: Can they afford to pay for care at home? Has any Medicaid planning been done? What government programs are they eligible for? Do they have a CPA or financial advisor? Estate plan: Where is their Last Will and Testament? Is there a Power of Attorney, Living Will or Medical Directive in place? Who is their estate planning attorney? Documents, including birth certificates, Social Security, insurance cards, safe deposit box keys, computer passwords, etc. Seven out of 10 people over age 65 will need help from others at some point. Most will need it for at least three years, so it might be wise to have the conversation before a difficult situation arises.Reference: The Des Moines Register (Dec. 19, 2018) “In 2019, resolve to have a difficult conversation”

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