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Greenwich Connecticut Estate Planning Law Blog

It's time to think about death and taxes

Nobody really likes to think about either death or taxes, but the two are heavily intertwined -- especially since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 went into effect. If you haven't spent some time reviewing your existing estate plans to see what changes should be made to minimize any tax consequences since then, you should.

Here are some of the things financial experts are recommending that you do with your estate plans now:

  1. Review any trusts. Trusts are great tools for passing wealth on securely to the next generation -- but some trusts became less useful due to the new laws. You could also run into state taxes that complicate your trust. A flexible trust strategy may be needed to accomplish some of your original goals.
  2. Look at spousal exclusions. Since 2010, one spouse has been able to "piggy bank" the unused federal tax exclusion left over from the other spouse's estate. Since you and your spouse are unlikely to pass at the same time, that's an important consideration.
  3. Find out more about how you can strategically use gifts to your heirs. Lifetime gifts to your heirs reduce the federal estate tax exclusion they receive -- but there are ways to make that financial bite a little less painful.

What does it take to get conservatorship over someone?

Generally, we all want our loved ones to have healthy, independent lives. But what if you don't think that's possible?you may be very concerned that one of your loved ones is making some really poor choices and doesn't seem to have the capability to manage their own affairs without disaster. Is conservatorship an option?

Maybe. A conservator can be appointed over someone's estate to handle their financial affairs or over their person to make medical decisions. Some conservators manage both when the court finds that to be necessary. But filing an application for conservatorship isn't a sure bet. You have to prove that the person to be conserved genuinely lacks the mental capacity to make considered decisions about their own life.

Do you suspect a stepparent of undue influence on the last will?

Few things are as upsetting as learning that someone has taken advantage of your parent as their health and mental acuity declined. Most families will discuss inheritances and legacies at some point as parents begin to age.

If you and your siblings know that your parent intended to leave a significant portion of their estate to you, their children, a last will that does not reflect those wishes may shock you and leave you feeling angry. Conflicts with stepparents over an estate can easily lead to probate challenges.

The top mistakes an executor can make

If you're the executor of someone's estate, you need to remember one key rule: Probate is a legal process. You're bound to follow certain rules. If you don't, you can end up in litigation that opens you up to personal liability.

Here are the biggest mistakes you can make as someone's executor:

  1. Trying to handle the estate all on your own. There's a lengthy list of things that need to be managed following someone's death. Executors for all but the simplest of estates usually need to get experts involved, like an attorney or a financial adviser -- and that's just for starters. Professional guidance can also prevent allegations that you're mismanaging the estate's funds.
  2. Hiring the wrong attorney. If the estate is simple, you may be comfortable hiring an attorney with general experience in estates -- but complex estates can have a lot of tricky issues that need to be carefully addressed. Pick an attorney with the depth and breadth of experience to handle the job.
  3. Letting your biases show. Maybe one of the heirs is just nicer or easier to work with than the others. Maybe you have long had a favorite among them. Either way, it's your job to play fair, so don't treat that heir any differently than you do the others.
  4. Ignoring the heirs. It's tempting to send calls to voicemail and ignore demanding emails when you're already feeling the pressure, but putting off the estate's heirs for another day can lead to unnecessary conflict -- and a lot of resentment. That can eventually culminate in charges that you're failing to do your job.
  5. Self-dealing. You may be entitled to take a fee for your services (if the estate allows it), but don't indulge your whims with the estate's property or money. That's automatically going to raise red flags and the heirs will rightfully be angry.

Are there any alternatives to guardianship?

Maybe mom has been getting a little forgetful and has stopped paying the bills even though there's money in the account. Or, dad has developed the early signs of dementia and you're concerned that his condition is worsening. Your intentions are good and you mean the best by suggesting that it's time to take guardianship of your elderly parents.

Your parents aren't so enthusiastic about the idea. In fact, they are flat-out against it. Despite all the issues they may have, they are certainly clear-headed enough to understand that having a legal guardian means that they lose autonomy over their own lives.

People of all ages should do estate planning

You may think that because you are in your early 20s with no dependents and few assets that you don't need an estate plan. But all adults should draft a few basic estate planning documents.

Why is that, you may wonder? Well, very few people have nothing of value to pass along after the die. You likely have a car or truck, a checking account, maybe a savings account. If you are working, you may even have some money socked away in a retirement account.

What plans do you have for your child's future?

Your estate planning needs will change with certain events in your life, including the birth of a child. You must ensure that your new baby is properly cared for if something happens to you and the other parent. If only one parent passes away, it is assumed that the other will raise the children. But, this isn't possible if both parents are deceased.

There are several components of the estate plan that can help ensure they are cared for if something unthinkable happens. Work closely with your estate planning attorney.

Here's why you need an attorney for your will

Are you ready to write your will? A quick search on Google will lead you to numerous websites where you can find downloadable forms for little or no cost.

Why hire an attorney to write your will when there are forms available online? Let's talk about the reasons it's simply smarter to use an attorney for your will-making process:

  • Your heirs can't afford a mistake. Online forms are designed to be as generic as possible. That leaves them vulnerable to problems because individual state laws regarding wills can be very specific. If your will doesn't comply with Connecticut's laws, it could be invalidated -- forcing your estate to go through the expense of probate.
  • An attorney can help you address all potential possibilities. You likely have a definite picture in mind of what should happen with your estate -- but what if things change? A good will has built-in contingency plans in case one of your heirs dies before you, an asset is sold or otherwise devalued before you die and other possible problems.
  • There won't be any worry over vague language. Even a will that is technically correct and valid under the law can cause confusion and sow discord if it is written with vague, confusing language that's open to interpretation. Your heirs could end up in a preventable dispute. An attorney can help you spot problems before they start.

When you need help with probate litigation, call us

There's a wry saying, "Where there's a will, there's disgruntled relatives." But in many cases, that is very true.

You could find yourself in a situation where you are at sword's point with your siblings over your deceased parent's estate. This is particularly untenable because these incidents can cause generational rifts in the fabric of a family.

Getting married? Have an estate planning talk with your intended

Getting married is exciting. There's a lot to talk about -- and a lot to plan. Once you get through picking a wedding venue and deciding where you're going to live, however, you and your future spouse need to talk about one more important thing: your estate plans.

The odds are good that you don't have any -- and neither does your spouse-to-be. Only about 32% of Americans overall have their estate plans in place -- although a marriage means that you'd need to revise your existing ones.

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