Archive for January, 2012
PLANNING AS AN UNMARRIED INDIVIDUAL
Many people think that there is no need to make an estate plan until or unless they get married. However, our firm recently handled a case that illustrates why buying into this planning myth can be very stressful and expensive for your loved ones.
Our client, we’ll call him “Bill”, was an unmarried man in his forties with a long-term girlfriend but no children. His only living relatives were siblings. Bill went into a coma after having an unexpected allergic reaction that caused him to have multiple cardiac arrests. He was put on life support and given next to no chance of recovery.
Bill did not have any planning documents in place. He had no will and, more importantly, he had not executed any document granting decision-making authority to a loved one in the event of his incapacity. Since Bill had no parents, children, or spouse, there was no one who had legal authority to take care of his property or to decide whether he should remain on life support.
Bill’s siblings had no recourse but to seek a guardianship over their brother. This expensive process led to stress and family strife over what Bill would have wanted to happen to him in this situation. Bill’s girlfriend, the person most likely to know what Bill wanted, was not even involved. Ultimately, Bill died before a full guardianship could be put in place.
Every person, especially unmarried individuals, should consider executing the following basic planning documents to help their loved ones avoid the “Bill” situation:
Designation of Health Care Surrogate (Health Care Power of Attorney)
Durable Power of Attorney
Last Will and Testament
We are here to explain these planning tools and to guide you through the estate planning process, so that your family will not suffer the needless expense and stress that Bill’s family endured.
MOVIE REVIEW TITLED “DADDY’S DYIN’…WHO’S GOT THE WILL (1990)
In our never ending search to find good estate planning related cinema, we watched Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will, a 1990 comedy featuring a good cast, including Beau Bridges, Beverly D’Angelo, Tess Harper and Judge Reinhold. In this dark comedy, bickering siblings are reunited at their deep in the heart of Texas home as their father lies on his deathbed. The siblings tear apart the house looking for the Will to see who is “in” and who is “out”. They fight, argue, joke and occasionally sing. Not a great film, but some amusing moments. When the Will is finally found, no additional drama is created. This family would be dysfunctional under any circumstances, but the fact that their father did not share his estate plan with them only added to the dysfunction.
IRS Gift Tax Audits: Yet Another Reason to Avoid “Do It Yourself” Estate Planning
We have posted in the past about the potential consequences of failing to file a gift tax return with the Internal Revenue Service after doing some do-it-yourself estate planning. (See our February 11, 2010 post titled “Help Yourself to the Big House: Why Would You Risk Going to Jail Rather than Talk with a Lawyer?”).
We feel the need to address this subject again in light of a new IRS gift tax compliance initiative. The IRS is now using land records from state and local governments to identify individuals for gift tax audits. Specifically, the IRS is looking for real property transactions with little or no money exchanged, targeting a common do-it-yourself estate planning practice.
Many individuals choose to transfer real property to their loved ones by adding them to the deed rather than by executing an estate plan. However, this do-it-yourself estate planning move can have serious consequences for the transferor of the property. Adding an adult to a real estate deed constitutes a present gift of that real estate, or at least part of it. This means that a gift tax return must be filed with the IRS after the transfer takes place and that a gift tax may be due.
Although the gift tax lifetime exemption is currently $5,000,000, making it unlikely that you would owe any gift tax, the consequences for failing to file a gift tax return include criminal penalties as well. A conviction for failure to file a gift tax return can result in a fine of up to $25,000 and up to one year in prison.
Because the IRS has been and will likely continue to step up its investigation into and enforcement of the gift tax, it is more important than ever to get professional help with your estate planning to avoid a do-it-yourself disaster.