Estate Planning: Helping Protect Your Interests

Costs of Raising a Child with Special Needs: The Story of Finn

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

Meet Finn and his family. Finn is a real boy with autism.

Finn’s father, Jeff Howe, shared his family’s story in “Paying for Finn: A special-needs child” for CNN’s Money Magazine. According to Howe, Finn is representative of 8% of all U.S. children because he is a child with special needs: he is autistic. His household is one of 25% of all U.S. households with a family member with special needs.

As the Howe family has learned, raising a child with special needs comes at great cost, both financial and emotional. Howe goes into great detail explaining his family’s journey with Finn. He does not hold back from sharing the specifics of his family’s finances and the costs associated with Finn’s care.

The financial burden for raising a child with special needs is staggering, to say the least, even for a family with considerable means. For families with less financial resources available to them, the financial burden is even more overwhelming. Continue reading »

What You’ve Been Waiting for – Estate Planning for Your Google Account

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

Google is giving users an innovative tool for long-term planning of digital data and access to inactive Google accounts. Welcome to estate planning for your Google account.

As many families have experienced, the terms of service for most types of online accounts from most providers do not generally allow for the transfer of access to an account in the event of death. As more people begin to store important documents, photos, videos, and other items of sentimental value online, gaining access to the information has become an increasingly important issue in estate planning, according to Brett Watz with Mind of the Geek.

On Thursday April 11, 2013, Google addressed this issue head on by rolling out its Inactive Account Manager. This feature allows a Google user to designate a particular person (or persons) as manager of the Google account once it becomes inactive. This trusted friend or family member will receive access to the user’s emails, videos, photos, and documents in the inactive Google account for many of its services, such as Mail and YouTube. The user selects which data can be accessed. Note that it appears that this policy does not extend to information contained in paid Google services (see The Digital Reader’s post by Nate Hoffelder). Continue reading »

iPad Apps for Autism

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

If you have someone with autism in your family, a tablet computer, such as an iPad or an Android tablet, may be a good investment.

Tablet computers offer numerous apps designed to help children with special needs, and apps specifically designed for people with autism can work wonders in helping them communicate.

St. Louis native Mark Bowers designed an app called Sōsh that helps young people develop social skills. According to the app’s website, Sōsh uses a methodology designed around the “five R’s” – Relate (connect with others), Relax (reduce stress), Regulate (manage behaviors), Reason (think it through) and Recognize (understand feelings). Continue reading »

Transfer on Death Deed Now in Illinois

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

On January 1, 2012, the Illinois Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act (Act) goes into effect. The Act permits owners of real property in Illinois to execute a deed which will allow for the property to be transferred to a designated beneficiary upon the owner’s death. If the property is owned jointly, the deed will transfer ownership upon the death of the second owner to the designated beneficiary.

The Transfer on Death Deed varies from its counterpart in other states in that it requires the deed to be executed with the formality of a Last Will and Testament. The deed must be witnessed by two witnesses, notarized, and the witnesses must attest that the person signing the deed is of sound mind. The deed requires certain language such as that it is not effective until the death of the owner and must be properly recorded before the death of the owner. Continue reading »

So You Are a Trustee

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

Your parent, aunt, grandparent, or friend has appointed you as trustee of their trust. You may have briefly glanced at the document 10 years ago when the trust was formed and never gave it a second thought until you get the call that the trust creator has become incapacitated or has died.

What do you do? What are your duties as trustee? What information are you supposed to give the beneficiaries? What are the steps to collecting assets? What bills do you pay? Are you supposed to file tax returns?

Serving as a trustee can quickly become overwhelming. Timing issues regarding notice to the beneficiaries and reporting to the beneficiaries your activities are often the most difficult for a trustee to know without the help of legal counsel. An accountant and financial advisor can also be valuable resources during the initial trust administration period.

Whether you are currently serving as trustee or know you will be serving as trustee in the near future, a consultation regarding your legal responsibilities as trustee is critical.

The duties of a trustee may include: Continue reading »

Lifetime Trust or Outright Distribution – How to Leave Your Assets to Your Beneficiaries

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

There are several ways you can leave your children (or other beneficiaries) your assets upon your death.

One option is an outright distribution. I call this the “here’s your inheritance” method. Upon your death, after payment of expenses and debts, your child receives their full share of the assets outright.

A second option is the staggered distribution method. This method gives your child a percentage of their inheritance at certain ages, dates, or events. A typical example is upon your child turning 30, he or she will receive one-third of their inheritance, at age 35 another third, and final distribution of the entire amount at age 40. In the meantime, your child would typically receive distributions of the principal and income of his or her share for needs such as a house down payment, educational expenses, or even a monthly stipend for living expenses. Another example would be an incentive based trust. With this trust, your child will receive 1/2 of his or her share if he or she graduates college and the remaining distribution if he or she maintains full-time employment for at least two years. Continue reading »

Being an advocate for your child with special needs

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

Information and strategies abound regarding techniques that should be implemented by parents of a child with special needs to advocate for the child’s education rights, therapies, and treatments. Building a network of resources and support is vital to becoming a parent advocate.

A great tool is available from the Advocacy Group Autism Speaks. They have put together a 100 day kit to help families with a new diagnosis of autism.

Parents also must quickly learn how to navigate the complicated educational laws governing children with special needs. Wrightslaw and other disability advocacy websites offer families a plethora of information regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and a child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Continue reading »

Electronic Estates – Keeping a Record of Your Assets

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

With the advent of electronic banking and e-statements, the face of our financial recordkeeping has changed over the past few years. Along with this change has come the limited knowledge of and access to your financial information. This is great for security now – but it can cause problems for your family when you are no longer around if you do not plan ahead.

Prior to online banking, when a person died the family could easily discover assets of the departed through statements delivered via “snail mail” – the U.S. mail. Bank statements would arrive in the mail on a monthly basis. Most brokerage statements would arrive at least quarterly. Worst-case scenario would be the annual statement from a life insurance policy, but there was usually a previous year’s statement available for reference.

Today, most people do their banking online and access retirement account/401(k) information online as well. They receive statements online with notifications via email, and dividends are electronically deposited. Continue reading »

Important Tax Options for Estates of Those Who Passed Away in 2010

Estate Planning Practice Group

Estate Planning Practice Group

For trustees and personal representatives of 2010 estates, new legislation passed on December 17, 2010, provides two options for tax treatment of assets from an estate created in 2010.

The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 made sweeping changes to estate taxes for 2011 and 2012 and retroactively made several changes for estates in 2010.

The new estate tax law allows an estate created in 2010 to elect out of the estate tax for 2010 which results in the application of the modified carryover basis rules.

Option One – Modified Carryover Basis

Elect out of the estate tax and complete IRS Form 8939 to allocate which assets in the estate will have their basis increased to the value of the assets as of the decedent’s date of death. This allocation is limited to $1,300,000 for non-spouse beneficiaries and $3,000,000 for a spouse beneficiary.

The executor of the estate is given the authority to complete the Form 8939 and make such allocations of the basis. There are also additional increases for capital loss carryovers and other losses. The proposed allocation must be provided to the beneficiaries prior to the election.

The basis step-up still does not apply to property which is considered “income in respect of a decedent” which includes traditional IRAs and 401(k)s.

Option Two – Five Million Dollar Estate Tax Exemption

Elect to subject the estate assets to estate tax and obtain a basis increase for all assets of the estate. The estate tax exemption amount was increased to $5 million for 2010 at a rate of 35% tax for assets over the $5 million. Continue reading »