Legal Analysis: Highlights from May 2023

Mb May 2023 Newsletter | Estate Planning Attorney | Myatt & Bell

In This Edition:

  • Common Misconceptions About Estate Planning & How to Handle Them
  • Get to Know Attorney Crystal Lewis
  • Complimentary Estate Planning Webinar

Common Misconceptions About Estate Planning & How to Handle Them

By Melissa Graveson, Attorney

When we think of estate planning, we think of making a plan for how the house, bank accounts, cars, and other assets should be distributed after we die. Often this means achieving peace of mind by clearly laying out the division of property so every family member is cared for as intended.

Unfortunately, several misconceptions remain about what estate planning and the death administration process actually entail. In order to make the plan that bests suits you, your family, and ultimately preserves your legacy, it is critical to understand the planning and administration process.

By understanding the seven common misconceptions that follow, you will be better suited to make informed decisions about what kind of estate plan you need.

Misconception #1: A will is all I need and it avoids probate
This common misconception has the potential to derail your planning and leave a lot of questions unanswered. Not only does a will not avoid probate, having a will nearly guarantees that your assets will be subject to a months-long probate process. Further, a will takes effect after death but has no use while we’re alive.

Creating a will or trust is the foundation of an estate plan, but other documents are needed to address end of life care. For example, a trust can indicate the intent to stay at home for as long as possible, an advance directive ensures last medical wishes are honored, and a power of attorney allows trusted individuals to assist with bills and finances when the planner is no longer able to manage their finances.

A good estate plan includes all of these documents and more, ensuring that a plan is in place to address all end of life concerns.

Our loved ones want to carry out our wishes, but when we do not execute documents to guide them, they are left at a loss for what to do and don’t have the authority to act.

Misconception #2: I can download a will or trust that suits my needs
Online forms have certainly improved. However, these forms will never be able to match the advice and guidance an experienced estate planning attorney can provide for your unique circumstances. Online forms may put a rough estate plan in place but are not capable of analyzing the intricacies of your estate and advising on executors, taxes, and other planning decisions.

Hiring a Myatt & Bell attorney to assist guarantees peace of mind that your estate plan is in place and is carried out as intended. Without an attorney you are left guessing as to whether your plan will operate as intended. Estate plans largely only come into operation after the planner is no longer able to make any desired changes. The reality is that you can’t afford to rely on an estate plan that you don’t know will work until it’s too late.

Misconception #3: I only need to make an estate plan when I’m retired and have a lot of assets
Unfortunately, life does not come with any guarantees and tragedies can happen without a moment’s notice. Waiting to make an estate plan means risking losing the chance to clearly designate caretakers for minor children or beneficiaries for assets.

It’s important to make a plan – even in early adulthood – because doing so is the only way to ensure loved ones actually receive assets designated for them. Further, and if you have minor children, it is even more critical to put a plan in place so they are cared for financially and guardians are nominated.

Without an estate plan the intestacy laws take effect and may create unintended consequences for distributions.

Misconception #4: A power of attorney can be used after death to pay bills and access accounts
A power of attorney is a document that takes effect during life so a named agent can assist with asset management and bill pay. Although it’s a key aspect of any estate plan, the power of attorney is no longer usable after someone dies. A will or trust is needed to direct management of your assets after death.

Misconception #5: A professional executor is expensive and unnecessary
The goal of estate planning is to clearly outline your wishes and appoint someone trustworthy and capable of carrying them out. Making the determination of who should carry out the estate plan is complicated, and family members aren’t always the best people for the job.

A professional fiduciary is helpful and even necessary in a variety of circumstances. For example, not all kids are willing or able to manage their parent’s estate. It is critical that the named trustee is able and willing to take on the job. Often kids are not in a place of their lives to take on the added burden of administering the estate. Further, if kids are not financially responsible with their own assets, they won’t be able to manage your estate and make distributions.

One goal of estate planning is to lay out a clear plan so that there are no questions and siblings aren’t left fighting. The reality is that in some circumstances an estate plan is best suited to the appointment of a neutral trustee to further preserve the sibling bond rather than putting one child in a position of authority over the others if this may cause conflict between them.

An estate plan is only as good as the person named to carry it out. Professional trustees have years of experience in administering estates smoothly and efficiently. When children or other beneficiaries are not in a place to take on this role it is a gift to appoint someone who can manage these tasks while the family moves through the grieving process.

Misconception #6: After a loved one passes away, I only have to distribute their assets
Distributing assets and receiving a last gift is an important and special aspect of administering an estate plan. However, this is the last step, and it typically occurs several months after a loved one passes away.

The trustee is required to manage and wrap up all aspects of the estate from paying bills and taxes to identifying beneficiaries and assets before distributions can be made. Without legal assistance, this is often an overwhelming and unclear process where the trustee risks failing to comply with the rules for managing an estate. So even if a trustee does not know the rules, they are still held liable for any noncompliance.

Working with an attorney will ensure the trustee manages the estate as intended and is aware of their fiduciary responsibilities.

Misconception #7: Estate Planning is too complicated, so I’ll just make my wishes known verbally
The estate planning process may feel overwhelming or even unnecessary to some. These feelings can be further validated if it seems like everyone gets along and will know how to carry out your wishes without any sort of written documentation.

Unfortunately, this is not an effective strategy because oral communications are not a legally recognized means of creating an estate plan. A verbal plan means probate will be required, and the estate will be managed and distributed in accordance with intestate laws that may not align with your intentions.

If the family gets along well and understands your wishes clearly, they may choose to receive the assets according to the Court and then redistribute them to the intended individuals. This is the best possible scenario and still requires Court involvement and expense that is ultimately costly and avoidable. Further, this strategy may create undesirable tax consequences, and does not direct the assets to our intended beneficiaries.

When a person passes it becomes readily apparent whether the planner’s wishes were well understood by the family. Often there is confusion even with an estate plan is in place ranging from whether Mom intended the heirloom China set to go to one child or another, or whether Dad really meant to distribute more of the estate to one child or the other. This confusion is compounded by grief but is easily solved with a written estate plan in place.

We’re here to help!
Having an estate plan is the only way to ensure your wishes are carried out as intended.

Myatt & Bell, P.C. is here to help ease the burden, clear up any confusion, and customize an estate plan with your wishes placed front and center.

Crystal Lewis, Attorney

Please tell us something fun about you:
I wanted to let my children eat the cookie dough without worry that they would catch a disease, so we raise a few healthy chickens and I know there is no danger in letting the kids eat the eggs raw.

What are you currently reading?
An ancient history textbook I found for free on-line.

What is one of your favorite movies?
Day and Night – equal parts silly, action, mystery, sentiment and romance.

What is your favorite food?
I was born in May so of course my favorite food is strawberry shortcake.

What do you like to do just for fun?
For fun, I golf with my husband or my daughter. We have six kids, but only one likes to golf.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
In my spare time, it’s all about home and family.

Strawberry Shortcake Recipe*

Yield: 4 generous servings

  • 2 pints ripe, well-rinsed strawberries
  • ½ cup sugar, or more to taste
  • 4 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1¼ cups butter
  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Step 1: Pick over and hull strawberries. Cut in half or slice, depending on size. Gently crush about a quarter of the berries with a fork to release their juices. Mix with remaining berries and the ½ cup of sugar, adding more sugar if necessary. Set aside, covered, for about half an hour to develop flavor.

Step 2: Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Step 3: Into a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, salt and baking powder. Add ¾ cup of softened butter, and rub into dry ingredients as for pastry. Add 1¼ cups cream, and mix to a soft dough. Knead the dough for one minute on a lightly floured pastry board, then roll it out to about ½-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut an even number of rounds – 2 rounds per serving.

Step 4: Use a little of the butter to grease a baking sheet. Place half the rounds on it. Melt remaining butter and brush a little on the rounds; place remaining rounds on top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Step 5: Remove from the oven, and pull shortcakes apart. Brush the insides with some of the remaining melted butter.

Step 6: Beat remaining cream until it thickens. Add vanilla. Beat again just until thick.

Step 7: Place a bottom half of a shortcake on each plate. Top with a generous spoonful of berries. Cover with a top half, add a few more berries, and top with whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Tip: Extra shortcakes may be frozen, but they should be warmed before using. They are also good toasted for breakfast or tea.

*Source: New York Times Cooking

Estate Planning & Peace of Mind

Have you found yourself making excuses for why not to get your estate in order? Maybe you’re convinced that you really don’t need estate planning. If you have assets and loved ones, you need an estate plan. Having an estate plan that is right for you ensures your loved ones are taken care of and that the transition is as easy as possible.

Attend one of our complimentary estate planning webinars and see for yourself. Having your estate plan prepared and understanding the why’s behind the importance of estate planning can bring you the peace of mind you have been needing. Join us at our next Estate Planning Informational Webinar by clicking here.

From Our Clients

“We have such a great experience with Myatt & Bell, P.C. They walked us through the entire estate planning process in a clear and precise manner that helped us understand every step. Our questions were answered with patience and clarity and in the end everything went quite smoothly. We are grateful to have this taken care of and to know that our family will be taken care of. I highly recommend Myatt & Bell, P.C. for your estate planning needs.” – Amy P.

“Covers all bases, easy to communicate with and friendly. What more could you ask?” – Serena K.

Families choose Myatt & Bell to design their estate plans with honest optimism and meticulous attention to detail.

Do you have feedback for us?

Please continue giving us feedback about your experience with M&B. We want to make sure our clients are happy.

And, if you run into someone who needs help with a will or trust, please tell them about Myatt & Bell. Thank you!

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