Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Executor Creates Process for Distributing Mother’s Assets

Clients who prepare their Living Trusts identify their assets and how they will be distributed among their heirs when they die. Assets include the obvious things such as real property, brokerage accounts, life insurance policies and other financial resources, but they also include other high-ticket items such as cars, jewelry, artwork, antiques, valuable collections, etc. Many people carefully allocate the large items but fail to identify how the smaller items will be distributed among their surviving family members. These are often items that may not have great financial value but are rich in sentiment, and their distribution can become highly contentious.

An Oakland client distributes mother’s assets

An Oakland client, the executor for his mother’s estate, shared this story of how he successfully distributed his mother’s assets among his siblings. His mother had created a Living Trust and had divided her estate equally among her three children. But she had not identified how the many small, sentimental items were to be divided among her three children. His brother and his wife were aggressive and greedy, and he wanted to avoid their taking the most valuable items, leaving his sister and him with the leftovers. He wanted to prevent potentially hard feelings and conflict, making sure that each of them was the recipient of household items and mementoes that would comfort them and keep their mother’s memory alive.
He knew, for instance, that his sister loved a beautiful Wedgewood plate that his mother always used for their birthday cakes, and she had a lovely gold bracelet that he would like to give his daughter. A wicker rocker in her study was where his mother used to sit and read, and he would love to have that chair in his own study. None of these things was worth a lot of money, but each was rich in memories.

As executor, he devised a plan that included only the three siblings, not their spouses

  • Each would create and prioritize a written list of the items he/she wanted from their mother’s belongings, without saying one word to each other.
  • They would flip a coin to see who would choose first.
  • The sibling who won the coin toss would select the first item, segregating it physically into a pile.
  • The person who came second would do the same, then the third, continuing until all of their mother’s belongings were taken.
  • If somebody’s choice was already taken, they would take the next item on their list, if that item was still available.
  • After all items were chosen, conversation was allowed and trading could begin. “You really wanted that item bracelet, and I really wanted that ring; would you be willing to trade?” Etc.

Siblings satisfied with the process

There was only one case where two siblings really wanted one item and a settlement/deal couldn’t be reached. Our client’s sister wanted something that he had chosen, but he wasn’t willing to part with it–their mother’s favorite pasta bowl that she had bought in Italy. There was no dispute, no loud discussion, and everyone was very satisfied with the process and the results—including his brother.
Have you created your Living Trust and named your executor? Contact the California Document Preparers team today to schedule an appointment. We help you through every step of the process.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Divorce: What If My Spouse No Longer Lives in This Country?

With our diverse Bay Area population, it’s not unusual that couples get married, then one spouse decides to return to his/her country of origin or move to another country altogether. Divorce can be part of this life change.
Our family law team at California Document Preparers finds that these cases surface from time to time. In most situations, these are uncontested divorces, with little property and no children or support. We recently helped several couples; in both cases, the wife was filing for divorce. One husband had moved to Ireland and the other had returned to his native Fiji. In both cases, these were relatively simple procedures–younger couples who had been married fewer than ten years, without community property or children, so there were no child support issues.

The method of serving your spouse varies by country

If you’re filing for divorce in the US, one spouse must be served with the divorce papers. When a spouse lives outside the US, he/she can’t be served; rather, he/she must respond to the court in which the spouse filed. The method for serving your spouse outside of the United States will depend largely on the laws of his country. This process typically runs about $1,000, may require additional document translation fees and take about nine months, if not longer.

Submitting a formal response to the court

We’ve learned that if the respondent (the person who has received the divorce papers) submits a formal response with the court after he/she has been served, then the petitioner (the spouse who is filing for divorce) is not required to submit a formal proof of service. Once served with the packet, the respondent can complete the response form (within the packet that he/she is served) and submit it to the court, along with the court filing fee.

California Document Preparers assists with document preparation and facilitating signatures

Once the response is filed with the court, the parties must continue to work together to complete the final court paperwork. California Document Preparers assists in preparing these documents and facilitating signatures between the parties. We’ve been very successful in helping our clients get divorced in those situations where spouses live in separate countries.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Lessons on Estate Planning from Gene Wilder

A comedian whose career spanned 40 years, Gene Wilder was 83 when he died in August from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He kept his illness hidden from most people for at least three years. The star of legendary comedies Blazing SaddlesThe Producers and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory reportedly wanted his fans to keep laughing over his large body of work rather than mourning the tragedy of his final years.

According to experts, keeping Alzheimer’s a secret is a common approach

Most Alzheimer’s sufferers hide symptoms for as long as possible for a variety of reasons.
  • Losing control. Those who are alone fear they’ll lose control of their own lives if their family or friends think they can no longer care for themselves and/or handle their own affairs.
  • Shame. There is also considerable shame attached to this disease, and many people who are in the early stages of dementia are understandably in denial. It may be family members, alarmed about cognitive changes, who finally force the issue. Interestingly, those patients who have advanced education or who have used their brains the most during their careers who are most successful at hiding their disease the longest.
  • Loss of friends. In another blog we talked about a New York woman who was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, and her therapist advised her not to tell her friends for fear they would abandon her. Her solution? She stopped going to that therapist, told her friends and, indeed, did lose a few friends who did not have the capacity to provide the support she would need.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are becoming common among the elderly and, unfortunately, the incidence will increase as our baby boomer generation ages. An estimated 80% of us can expect to experience at least some degree of dementia in our lifetimes.

Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s creates immediacy

If someone in your family has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it is critical to move quickly to create or update a Living Trust and other estate-planning documents before the person deteriorates and is unable make decisions or sign legal documents.
Those suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can often still make legally valid decisions for themselves. It may be necessary, however, to get a doctor’s letter attesting to the patient’s ability to understand what he/she is signing. It’s important to make sure that all of the legal documents are in place, including the Will, Living TrustPower of Attorney and Advanced Healthcare Directive. At California Document Preparers, our comprehensive Living Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and an Advanced Healthcare Directive.

Creating a Power of Attorney to manage income and assets

The Power of Attorney, called an agent, is usually a trusted family member, domestic partner or friend, who will make financial and other decisions when the person with dementia (the principal) is no longer able. Power of attorney documents should be written so that they are durable–valid even after the principal is incapacitated and can no longer make decisions. The agent is authorized to manage and make decisions about the income and assets, according to the instructions, and in the best interests, of the principal.

An Advanced Healthcare Directive to make decisions about care

An Advanced Healthcare Directive empowers a trusted friend or family member to make healthcare decisions for the principal when he/she no longer can. This includes choosing doctors and other providers, including hospice care. It also includes treatment and care facilities. For a person in the later stages of dementia, the healthcare agent also may make end-of-life decisions, such as giving do not resuscitate (DNR) instructions to healthcare providers. For the person with dementia, it’s important to talk through his/her wishes early on to make sure the agent not only understands but agrees to act on his/her behalf.

A final caveat . . .

When a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease signs new estate-planning documents after the disease has progressed, it greatly increases the chances that someone in the family may contest the validity of the documents in court. Getting these end-of-life documents in place as soon as possible after the disease’s diagnosis helps assure that they will not be challenged.
Call the California Document Preparers team today to schedule an appointment for your Living Trust. We help you through every step of the process.