Author Archives: Minna Vallentine

Can it happen here?

thDN8XDHBYA recent story from the United Kingdom talked about the rise of family feuds related to inheritance.  The number of cases – 116 – reaching the High Court in 2015 broke all past records.

According to a British law firm, the rise in cases is due to the “intricacies of modern family life and rising property prices.”  This increased complexity means that there is a larger pool of potential claimants for every estate.  There is a big risk that someone will feel left out and bring a claim.

In addition, people living together outside of marriage may be left out in the cold if their significant other dies without a will.  The estate will most likely go to their blood relatives, not to their partner.  A claim might be the only way to possibly address this issue.

Furthermore, people may marry more than once and if there are children or stepchildren involved, there’s a good chance that someone will feel wronged.  A spouse may intend for their own blood children to inherit their assets, but they die first and, eventually, everything goes to surviving spouse’s children.  The blood children of the first to go spouse get nothing.

One famous British case involved an estranged daughter who successfully battled her mother’s decision to leave money to animal charities.  In the end, she received about one third of her mother’s estate.

Can this type of inheritance feud happen in the United States?  Absolutely.  If you don’t want it to happen to you or your loved ones, make sure you have a will and have clearly, legally documented your wishes while you’re still alive to do so.

For more information about planning for the end of your life, check out our website


Have you done your end of life planning yet?

oldIt’s something no one wants to think about, much less actually do.  However, it’s critical that you make a plan so that your wishes can be carried out.

Do you care about whether the doctor takes heroic measures?  Do you want to be kept on life support?  Do you want to receive treatment if there’s no chance of you resuming a normal life?  Equally as important, who do you want to have the authority to make these kinds of decisions for you if you aren’t able to do so yourself?

Last year, a change was made to Medicare so it will pay your doctor to take the time to talk with you about these important considerations.  You should ask your physician to discuss some of the issues and to help you towards decisions.  Don’t wait until you’re in the ER and in the middle of a healthcare crisis.  Make your decisions now, put them in writing thru a healthcare directive or healthcare power of attorney and be prepared.

For more information about end of life planning, go to our website


Don’t want to go into the funeral home – try drive-thru viewing

drive thruIt is not a new concept but now Ryan Bernard of Memphis is joining the drive-thru visitation service trend. 

When Bernard bought an old bank building in Memphis to use for a funeral home, he found a unique use for the drive-thru window.  Guests can view the deceased’s body through a bullet-proof window.  If they don’t want to fuss with parking and getting out of the car or are afraid of funeral homes, guests can just drive up and pay their respects.  They can sign an iPad guest book and spend approximately 3 minutes alone with the body.

The drive-thru concept is a free add-on offered to people when they are planning a funeral.

According to Bernard, he’s gotten a mostly positive reaction although some people have said they find it disrespectful.

His facility, R. Bernard Funeral Services, has already added live streaming of funerals and will continue to add innovative concepts.  He said, “The funeral industry is always changing every year. I keep the old traditional funeral stuff and try to add new stuff to it,” Bernard said. “I am 41 years old. I am not out just to market to the grandmas and grandpas, I am trying to get the millennials and the Baby Boomers too.”

Whether you want to add non-traditional elements to a funeral or just plan an “old fashioned” one, for more information go to

Are you financially prepared to be a widow?

475498It’s a fact that women live longer than men in every country in the world.  It’s important to be prepared and to start looking at widowhood as a when, not an if.

More than one in five women 60 or older is living in poverty.  A survey of women whose partners had died revealed that half of them lost at least 50% of their income following their spouse’s death, and 48% had trouble determining what Social Security benefits they were entitled to.

Here’s what you need to do to stay financially secure after your spouse is gone:

  1. Get involved in family finances.  Don’t just let your husband handle everything.  If you and your husband use a financial advisor, get involved in meetings and share in the decision making process.Make sure you know all of the financial information for you and your husband – bank and brokerages account numbers, insurance companies, contact information for your financial advisor, CPA, insurance agent, and attorney.  You should also know the location of all important documents, the combination to any safes, the location of your safe deposit box key and a master list of computer logins and passwords.
  2. Know about life insurance.  If you don’t currently have a policy, it might be worth getting one.  It’s an easy, tax-free way to replace income after your spouse dies.
  3. Consider – and reconsider – a prenup.  This document may be able to protect and exclude some assets from your marriage, which could be very helpful after your spouse dies by possibly helping you to avoid large tax implications of assets that could otherwise be considered joint marital property.  It’s worth consulting an attorney before you wed and then later in your marriage.
  4. Understand your survivor benefits.  It’s a good idea to know what you’re entitled to before the death of your spouse.  You should know about the Social Security benefits for both of you and understand the options you have.Be sure your beneficiaries are up to date.  This is especially important if this is a second marriage for either of you.   Transfer on Death (TOD) designations (beneficiary designations for non-retirement accounts) and beneficiaries should be tied to as many assets as possible.  TOD designations can keep assets from being frozen during the probate process.
  5. Consolidate your accounts.  If you have many individually titled investment accounts, this can prove a time-consuming mess for the surviving spouse.  You should consider consolidating accounts, especially if your spouse has similar IRA or other accounts.  Every account has its own process and documents when the owner or one of the owners dies; having many different accounts usually doesn’t serve a real purpose.  Consolidation results in less paperwork to deal with after the owner’s death.
  6. Work with your financial advisor, not the bank.  You might be tempted to let your bank handle everything after your husband dies, but that could be a big mistake.  The bank may aggregate all of your assets and then try to sell you financial products you don’t need.  Instead, you should consult your financial advisor both before and after the death of your spouse.If you haven’t worked with a financial advisor, accountant or lawyer, or if you have typically let your husband deal with these people, you should get to know them too.  That way, you will have a group of advisors you know and trust who can help you after your husband’s death.
  7. Don’t make any major life changes right away.  Most advisors suggest that widows make no significant life changes for the first year after the death of their spouse.  You should not be in a hurry to spend or invest your money while setting the estate.  You need to be sure you have a full grasp of your new financial situation first.Losing your spouse is a devastating event.  Don’t make it more devastating by become financially insecure after becoming a widow.  Take steps before this happens to protect yourself financially.  Have open and honest conversations about money with your spouse and your financial advisor now to ensure a smoother transition to when you’re a widow.

For more information about estate planning, go to


What happens to your small business after you die?

imagesVG6IEGM7You may have a will or a trust that covers the disposition of your personal assets after you die.  If you own a small business, those documents are not enough.  There must be a separate plan put in place to  insure that your business will continue when you’re gone.

It’s a good idea to consult an attorney but, before you do, you should ask yourself and those involved in the business with you the following questions:

  • After your death, do you want the business to continue?
  • Who do you want to run the business?
  • Does that person want to run the business or have the skills to do so?
  • If you have children, do you want one running the business with the other(s) sharing in the profits?
  • Do you have partners to consider?
  • What’s the best way to transfer ownership?

If your spouse or children are going to take over the business, transferring your interest to them is fairly simple.  It can be more complicated if you want someone outside of your family  to run the business.  Whoever you decide is the right person to manage your company, you definitely should make plans that will allow the business to continue running while avoiding probate proceedings.

Two common ways to transfer business assets and operations are:

  • Key Man Insurance:  Either the business takes out an insurance policy on each owner’s life or a cross-purchase arrangement occurs in which each partner takes out life insurance for each other, using the proceeds to purchase your share when you die. This ensures the company avoids a drain on the business’s cash and allows for an injection of cash in order to fulfill a buy/sell agreement.
  • Buy/Sell Agreement: This agreement can be automatically triggered upon your death and provide that your interest in the business can be acquired from your estate, leaving your beneficiaries with the proceeds from the sale. This allows your business to continue running smoothly, with the same people in control, except for you.

However you decide to plan for the continuation of your small business, the important thing is to make a plan now, before it’s too late.

For more information about estate and other end of life planning, go to