Tag Archives: estate plan

Estate Plan: What to do with a problematic in-law?

I see the impact of problematic in-laws on a weekly basis.

To be clear, I struck gold with my own in-laws.  They are extremely supportive and loving.  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say the feelings are mutual.  One of the hardest things about social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is not being able to spend time together in person.  Thanksgiving and the rest of this holiday season are going to be particularly difficult.  

But not everyone has a great relationship with their in-laws.  In fact, based on what we see in our office, it is not uncommon for families to have at least one problematic in-law. Someone who is just out of sync with the rest of the family.  

Why does a problematic in-law impact your estate planing?

If you do not yet have an estate plan and you do not have a surviving spouse, Wisconsin law designates your children as the “natural objects of your bounty.” That means your child or children will inherit your estate.  When you have family harmony, this makes sense.  In fact, for those who have the foresight to make an estate plan, most leave their estate to their children (if there is no surviving spouse).  Many of us sacrifice a bit throughout our lifetimes with the hope of passing some inheritance to our children.  It is the natural order of things.

Some things are out of our control

And then your child goes off and marries someone you distain. Not someone who is a little annoying.  Someone who is simply awful, loathsome, and repulsive.  If your child inherits your estate, what happens if she predeceases you? Allows his spouse to consume the inheritance? What if she gets divorced?  

Problematic In-law
(Photo: Gillette Blog)

Part of growing up is allowing your child to make their own choices.  But our choices have consequences.  There are a few techniques you can use in your estate plan to address the problematic in-law.  This is not about teaching your child a lesson.  It is about protecting the inheritance.  

The most extreme option is to disinherit your child.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that one of your most important rights is the power to dispose of your property as you choose and, therefore, parents have no duty to leave their estate to their children.  Nonetheless, disinheriting a child can have significant emotional and financial consequences for your loved ones.  It can be emotionally painful for the child.  It can also deny your child funds that could provide additional financial stability.  Her siblings may feel guilty for inheriting their sibling’s share of the estate.  And it can lead to a court challenge and protracted litigation over the inheritance.  

You have options

In the alternative, you can work with your lawyer to decrease the likelihood that the problematic in-law receives anything from your estate.  The most common approach is to hold the funds in a trust for your child’s benefit and restrict the spouse’s access to the funds.  Then, if your child gets divorced, the assets are protected and preserved for your child.  And upon your child’s death, the funds can be directed to your child’s children (your grandchildren) or divided among your surviving children and/or charities.    

You can also skip a generation and gift the funds to your child’s children.  This is actually a common approach when a child predeceases – even when you like the in-law.  You can accomplish this through outright gifts to your grandchildren or holding the inheritance in a trust for their benefit until they are old enough to manage the funds responsibly.  

Your estate plan, or lack thereof, cannot be corrected after you die.  If you find yourself struggling with your child’s choice of spouse, you would benefit from a conversation with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning.  There may be a way to avoid or minimize conflict with a problematic in-law and maximize your child’s access to the inheritance.


Problematic In-Law Resources:

Blog: Wisconsin blended families & estate planning

by: Attorney Rebecca Mason

Blog: Dealing With Your Child’s Spouse

by: M.D. Jackson


Blog: 10 Tips for Dealing With In-Laws

by: Laurie E. Rozakis, PhD

Pumpkin Spice Estate Plan

New clients in the month of November receive a gift certificate to enjoy Wilson’s Coffee and Tea with your completed estate plan.

Bundled Estate Plan Gift Certificate:

Married Couples – $100
Single Individual – $50

Unbundled Estate Plans – $20

Rebecca Mason Law
Pumpkin Spice
Estate Plan

New clients in November receive a gift certificate to Wilson's Coffee and Tea with your completed estate plan

Bundled Plan Gift Certificate:
Married Couples - $100
Single Individual - $50

Unbundled Estate Plans - $20

Disclaimer:
 
*Contracts must have initial consultation in November and executed prior to 2021



*Contracts must have initial consultation in November and executed prior to 2021

Get Your Pumpkin Spice Estate Plan Started Today:


Online Resources:

Wilson’s Coffee & Tea

https://wilsonscoffee.com/

3306 Washington Ave.
Racine, WI 53405

Rebecca Mason Law

Estate Planning: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/our-practice/estate-planning-estate-administration/
2020-11-30T14:57:00

  days

  hours  minutes  seconds

until

How many days left to get your Pumpkin Spice Plan?

Happy Father’s Day, dad


Father’s day, like many holidays, can invoke strong emotion. We work with many families who have unresolved issues when a loved one dies. It can be very difficult for loved ones to find closure in these situations.  

Some unresolved issues are so deep and hurtful that they cannot be resolved. 

Father's Day

A few years ago, my father posted on Facebook that he tripped and fell while on a walk and ended up having to go to the ER.  Although we were Facebook friends, we had not talked in years.  He was living in Washington DC and remarried – I had only met his wife once.  He had never met his grandchildren. 

As I read my father’s post, I thought about the families I counseled in my law firm conference room as they struggled through the death of an estranged family member.  Given that a minor fall landed him in the hospital, I worried we might not have much time left.  I decided I did not want that for me and, more importantly, my children.

I reached out to him and extended an invitation.  They came to Racine for a visit with us almost immediately!  My kids were excited to meet them and welcomed them with open arms.  Before the pandemic, they visited us here in southeast Wisconsin regularly, and we all flew out to visit them a few times.

It has been wonderful getting to know each other as adults and watching them with their grandchildren. 

I know it is not always possible.  But, for me, letting go of the past and accepting the present has brought me such peace and allowed me and my children to get to know two amazing people.

Happy Father’s Day, dad.  And happy Father’s Day to all the dads, grandpas, and father figures out there! 


Rebecca Mason Law Resources:

Our Services: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/our-practice/

Estate Planning: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/our-practice/estate-planning-estate-administration/

10 questions to ask your loved ones: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/2019/02/28/10-questions-to-ask-your-loved-ones/

Online Resources for Father’s Day:

What to consider when reconnecting with Family:

Real Racine Event Calendar: http://www.realracine.com/events/


Estate Planning: a Perfect Side Dish to Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving can be a happy time to visit with your friends and family. People often take this time to reflect on what you have to be thankful for and often that is your loved ones.

It is also a perfect time to talk about your estate plan. 

One of our clients started a tradition a few years back.  On Thanksgiving after the meal is eaten and before too many drinks have been consumed, he sits down with the son who will eventually take over as successor trustee.  He shows his son where he physically keeps his estate plan and other planning documents.  Walks him through where all the family assets are held.  He highlights what has changed over the previous year. 

If you are fortunate enough to enjoy spending time with your family, why, you ask, would you interrupt the joy by talking about your death?    

Why?  Because your estate plan is a gift to them.

Take the time to think about all of your investments, real estate, and accounts.  Contemplate all of your log-ins and passwords to your financials, your social media, and your digital libraries.   Consider your monthly and annual expenses.  Now imagine you are suddenly gone tomorrow.  Would your husband or wife know what to do?  Your daughter or life-long friend?

A friend was recently bemoaning the fact that her brother left no will and a mess that she now had to clean up without any idea as to what he wanted.  She is living the reality that your estate planning is – more than anything –  a gift to your loved ones.

When you fail to organize your documents and execute your estate plan, you are leaving your loved ones in quite a predicament.  We have opened probates that require us to call through every local bank and credit union trying to figure out where the deceased had accounts. We have had the surviving loved ones bring in boxes of financial documents not knowing whether their life insurance policies are still good, or whether retirement and investment accounts have been cashed out or rolled over into a different account. 

Tracking down assets can be time-consuming and expensive.  More importantly, you leave your loved ones with an ever-present uncertainty.  Did they find everything?  Are they wrapping up your affairs the way you wanted?

The Holiday Season is upon us.  When you gather, find a way to talk about your estate plan with your family.  If you don’t have your plan yet, you may be able to get one before the holidays if you act now.   It’s a good time to take the opportunity to start talking about how you want your things divided as a way to begin the process.


Resources:

Mass Mutual Blog Post: https://blog.massmutual.com/post/thanksgiving-estate-planning

Rebecca Mason Law Blog Post: https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/2019/03/10/estate-planning-gift-loved-ones/

You Can’t Take It With You! – A Halloween Candy Story.


After a night of trick or treating, our son consumes nearly all of his Halloween candy before we make it home.  If it were left up to him, he would eat the entire bucket that night. 

In contrast, one of our daughters will first organize her candy into chocolate, gummy, hard candy, etc.  She will then eat just a few pieces of her candy that night and limit herself to one piece of candy per day to make it last as long as possible. 

She certainly shows a great deal of self-control.

But at what cost? 

Inevitably, as the winter holidays approach, I will throw out a large amount of her old, now stale, Halloween candy to make room for the candy canes, peppermint kisses, and chocolate treats.  She ends up missing out on a good portion of her Halloween candy. 

Now, I am not advocating eating an entire bucket of candy in one day.  But perhaps living life to its fullest and enjoying what we have while it’s still good isn’t the worst approach. 

And given that this is now an annual occurrence, perhaps it makes sense for her to make a plan for that excess Halloween candy and give some away while it’s still fresh.

I met with a potential client at his home who was in the end stages of a terminal illness.  He was living at home with his sisters providing 24-hour care.  His mental capacity was slipping.  He had good days and not so good days.  He wanted me to draft a will that gave his estate to his sisters and their brother and to disinherit his children as they had been estranged for decades.   When I came back to his home to review his will, he was having one of his not so good days and was angry with his sisters because he didn’t want to eat his lunch and they were being pretty persistent that he needed to eat.  He decided that he was going to take his money, his boat, and his truck with him and not leave anything to his family.  I explained that he couldn’t take it with him when he passed.  He insisted he would find a way.

Needless to say, we did not execute a will that day. 

He passed a little while later without ever executing a will.  His estranged children will inherit everything.

None of us know when we are going to die.  But we do know that you can’t take it with you.  While we are here, we can live life to its fullest.  Maybe eat a few extra pieces of Halloween candy.  And if we are lucky enough have something left when we die, we can have a plan in place long before we lose the capacity to do so to make sure the transfer of wealth goes smoothly and according to our wishes.

Our own Halloween Candy – Rebecca Mason Law Resources:

https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/2019/03/10/estate-planning-gift-loved-ones/

Elder Law Attorney v. Internet

In the age of Pinterest boards, YouTube videos, and political Tweets a “do it yourself” mentality pervades our society. DIY can be a good route for home decor, it’s not always the best idea for estate planning. An experienced elder law attorney can help you put together an estate plan that works for you, your beneficiaries and your assets.

DIY estate plans can have catastrophic consequences.

A client hired our elder law firm to help with the probate of his dad’s estate.  Her father had remarried later in life after his kids were grown and his wife also had children from a prior marriage.  His wife passed first and left everything to dad.  Dad frequently discussed his intent for all their children – his and his wife’s – to inherit equal shares of his estate.  Dad prepared a will using an online legal service. 

The will was clear about how he wanted his estate distributed, however it was not signed in front of two witnesses.  A fatal flaw for a will in Wisconsin, and one an elder law firm would probably not make.  It therefore does not control the distribution of his estate’s assets.  Without a will, his children are entitled to inherit everything, cutting out his wife’s children.

Online Legal Services can Create Significant Problems. 

Another client came to us after her partner passed.  They had never married.  Her partner created a will using an online service to leave her everything and it was correctly executed.  Unfortunately, the forms were not completed correctly, with the beneficiary portion was left blank in the final version.  Without being named as a beneficiary, she was not entitled to any of the estate. Instead it was distributed to estranged relatives.

Hiring an Elder Law Attorney Is Less Expensive in the Long Run

For many, the biggest draw of DIY estate planning websites is the low cost. However, a DIY estate plan can ultimately be more expensive. Many elder law attorneys charge flat fees for estate plans, whereas legal services for a probate are billed hourly. If the DIY will fails or is contested, the costs will far exceed the costs of hiring a lawyer to draft your plan originally. 

Lawyers are Experts

elder law lawyers know how to handle the complicated situations that can arise in estate planning. Owning a business, marrying more than once, and having a disabled child are just a few examples of complexities in estate planning. Generic online forms are often not equipped for these issues. Working with an attorney guarantees that your loved ones will be taken care of, no matter how intricate your family tree. 

State Laws Matter

Estate planning is at the intersection of several areas of law. Estate planning involves dealing with real estate, taxes, and health care, among other things. As many have found out Laws also vary widely by state, which online estate planning tools don’t always account for properly. In order to make sure that your estate plan is valid and aligns with your wishes, it’s important to work with an experienced elder law attorney in your state. 

Maximize Value

Beyond ensuring that your estate plan is valid, elder law attorneys can help you maximize the value of your estate. After learning more about the contents of your estate, your attorney can help determine exactly which documents you need and how you can avoid unnecessary taxes. 

An elder law attorney can work with you to identify your goals for your estate and make them a reality.


Resources:

Check out some relevant articles:

Forbes Articles:

Is Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning a Valid Option?

The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Wills

Rebecca Mason Law Blog Posts:

National Health Decision Day

Estate Planning: A gift for your loved ones

If friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow?

Cliff Jumping

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

Henry David Thoreau

A little earlier this summer, we took our kids to Door County for the weekend with a group of friends.  The pilgrimage to Door County seems to be a standard for many families.  And this is for good reason!  It is beautiful, restful, and there is some kind of magic that seems to always happen there that rejuvenates you and allows you to reconnect with your loved ones.

During this year’s trip, we took our kids — 7, 8, and 10 — cliff jumping at the Sand Dunes State Park.  So we literally got in the car and drove about an hour to tell our children to jump off a cliff.  It was my first time and theirs.  If you’ve never been, please know: that last step right before your first jump is utterly terrifying.  But the plunge into the water is exhilarating. 

In my law practice, I help people plan for their death and ensure their assets are properly distributed to their loved ones after they pass.  We walk a difficult walk alongside many.  We get to know our clients and their families as they struggle through some pretty tough times.

Given my day job, it’s probably not surprising that as I stood at the top of the cliff before taking my first plunge, I paused to reflect and was comforted knowing my family would be OK because my affairs were in order.  You know, if I did not survive when I defied my mother’s advice and actually followed my friends and jumped off that cliff. 

Holding the hands of my daughters, we counted to 3.  And then we jumped, continuing to hold hands as we leapt off sturdy ground and launched ourselves through the humid summer air into the frigid Lake Michigan waters.  As I resurfaced to the sounds of their shrieks of laughter and pure joy, I absolutely found “my eternity in [that] moment.” We have all had those moments.  And may we have many, many more.

Most people put off estate planning because we don’t want to think about or talk about our death.  It does no good to live in fear of the inevitable.  I was reminded of this quite clearly as I prepared to jump of that cliff.  In knowing your affairs are in order truly gives you peace.  I am not ready to die.  I do not want to die any time soon.  Yet, we can’t control when that will happen.  (Although my mom would say, choosing not to jump off that cliff makes it less likely to happen that day.)

But you can make sure everything is in order so that you can be confident in taking (calculated & safe) opportunities to “live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, [and] find your eternity in each moment.” 

1 thing your Graduate might not Be Considering…

My Facebook and Instagram feed is filled with excited posts about friends’ children’s graduations and their decisions about which colleges they will be attending. 

This is certainly an exciting time of the year. So much effort has gone into preparing for this moment!

At the risk of spoiling this celebratory time, however, I recommend you consider the following before they leave your nest:

What happens if your now-adult child experiences a medical emergency?

Why should you think about your child experiencing a medical emergency before she or he heads to college? Imagine receiving a call from your child’s college roommate that your child was in an accident and rushed to the hospital.  Then imagine you call the hospital and they tell you that they have no legal authority to share any information with you about your child’s condition. And you have no ability to weigh in on the medical decisions.

“The risk is real. Accidents are the leading cause of death for young adults. A quarter-million Americans between 18 and 25 are hospitalized with nonlethal injuries each year.”


Deborah L. Jacobs – Forbes

Many do not know that, in Wisconsin, once your child turns 18 you can no longer be involved in his or her medical decisions without your child’s express permission.  What happens if your child is unconscious or otherwise unable to grant this permission following an accident or illness?  Without planning ahead, you have to have a hearing in court to obtain a guardianship. 

No person should be spending time in law offices and courtrooms while their child suffers in a hospital.  You belong at your child’s side. 

The resolution is easier than you think

With a Health Care Power of Attorney document, your adult child can designate you (or another adult) as his or her Health Care Agent to receive information and assist with decisions if he or she is not able to do so.

While you are considering this power of attorney, also consider discussing who your child wants to help with your child’s finances. A Power of Attorney for Finances and Property allows your child to name someone to access financial records and make decisions about your child’s financial affairs if they are unable to do so.

During these festive months before you send your child off to college, I encourage you to have a conversation with them about who they want to help them in a medical emergency. It only takes a moment. And then schedule an appointment to meet with an attorney to ensure your child is covered before he or she leaves for college.


Resources:

Forbes Blog Post. Two Documents every 18 year old should sign. https://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2014/08/15/two-documents-every-18-year-old-should-sign/#55b6ff0b6e33

Women and Wealth

Women control more private wealth than ever before.  According to the Boston Consulting Group, in 2010, women controlled approximately $34 Trillion of the private wealth.  By 2020, we are expected to control $72 Trillion of the private wealth, which represents a full 1/3 of all private wealth. 

How is wealth shifting to women?

Women are increasingly business owners, entrepreneurs, primary or sole breadwinners, and are likely be the surviving matriarchs of our families:

  • There are approximately 10.6 Million women-owned businesses in the United States – and women are responsible for 70% of all new business startups in the United States.
  • In families that have a husband and wife, 40% of wives now make more than their husbands.
  • Two out of three women over 75 are single – many due to the death of spouse, as women frequently outlive their husbands. 

The Great Wealth Transfer is coming

In the next 25 years, it is anticipated that 45 Million families in the U.S. will transfer 68 Trillion from the Baby Boomer generation to the next generations. As a result of women living longer, most of the private wealth that changes hands in the coming decades is likely to go to women. 

Yet, the wealth management industry has historically focused on male clients.  Perhaps that is why many women do not engage in financial planning or wealth management.  Interestingly, however, of women who increased their involvement in their financial affairs, 90% reported an increase in their quality of life.  It is empowering to take control over your finances.  Seek out one who is a good fit for you.

Estate planning lawyers have similarly catered to males.  Not surprisingly, studies show that 70% of widows change their estate planning attorney after the death of their husband.  I see this frequently in my estate planning practice with many widows choosing to move their business to my firm.  Often because they want to work with a woman-owned firm.  Just as frequently, it is because we treat them with dignity and do not assume they lack sophistication simply because they are women.

In Closing

The shift in wealth is in process.  From one generation to the next.  And women stand to benefit greatly over the next few decades.  For women, having a plan to manage our wealth and to protect our legacy is critically important.  Part of protecting our legacy is ensuring that our money supports the people we love and the causes we are passionate about.  Once you have hired that wealth management or financial planning professional, you can work with them to see how best to grow and preserve wealth for your children and how to best support the charities that align with your values.  Then turn to your estate planning lawyer to help you make sure that your wealth transfers seamlessly to the next generation and that the charities you currently support are not forgotten.


Resources:

Blog Post: Leveling the Playing Field
by: Boston Consulting Group

https://www.bcg.com/documents/file56704.pdf

Rebecca Mason Law Estate Planning:

https://rebeccamasonlaw.com/our-practice/estate-planning-estate-administration/

On Earth Day We asked… Can Estate Planning be Eco-Friendly?

My husband and I try to instill in our children a love for nature.  This photo is of our middle daughter, Amelia, as we hiked through Johnson Park in Racine last fall.  Living in such a beautiful part of the world, it’s easy to spend hours outside with loved ones. We take the kids hiking and camping whenever we have a spare moment. 

Not only do we get to experience nature, but we also unplug and experience each other without interruption.

Attorney Mason and her daughter hiking on Earth Day in Racine County
Attorney Mason and her daughter, Amelia hiking in Racine County Wisconsin

As we consider Earth Day, we are proud that our love for nature is being passed on to our children.  I am also proud to extend this ethos beyond our families weekend adventures. It has become a fundamental part of my firm’s estate planning practice.

Have you considered a green burial?

We routinely ask our clients if they have considered a green burial.  A “green burial” is an Eco-friendly approach to burial. Traditional burial method fills your body with a formaldehyde solution and encases your body in a casket. Caskets are often not bio degradable.

During a green burial, your body is not embalmed. You are buried in a container that is 100 percent bio degradable.  Sometimes no casket at all. The body is wrapped in a cloth.  Did you know you can also choose to be buried with a tree sapling? This metaphorically and actually allows your body to become the tree.

What else can be done on Earth Day?

We also found ways to cut waste by offering a “paper-lite” estate plan. With the help of newer tech and our fantastic millennial staff, we have a secure portal. The secure portal allows us to share drafts and obtain client feedback without using paper.  Our clients can also securely access their estate plan from literally anywhere in the world (as long as there is internet access). 

In Wisconsin, the final Estate Plan needs to be signed to comply with state law.  But digitizing large portions of the estate planning process can significantly reduce the use of paper and our impact on the earth. While at the same time improving the process.

We know these efforts are not huge changes. But each small change we make adds up.


Earth Day & Estate Planning Resources:

The Green Burial Council: https://www.greenburialcouncil.org


The Biodegradable burial pod that turns your body into a tree:
https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/03/world/eco-solutions-capsula-mundi/index.html