Category Archives: Uncategorized

Estate Planning and Family Feuds

Family feuds and estate planning were an oxymoron in the 50′s and 60′s.

The family consisted of a mother, a father, and children who shared the same mother and father.     Whether someone died with or without a will, the results were usually the same.     If the spouse made a will, they named the surviving spouse and the children as beneficiaries.   If a spouse died without a will, state intestate laws named the surviving spouse and the children as beneficiaries.

People died fast.    There were no caregivers or need to pay for long term care from family resources.

Fast forward to today. According to a recent USA article: Blended families are now the norm.   “More than half of all first marriages end in divorce and about 75% of divorced people will marry again, according to the National Stepfamily Resource Center. About 65% of these unions will include children from previous marriages. More than 40% of American adults have at least one step-relative, according to a Pew Research Center study earlier this year.”

If you are part of a blended family, dying with or without a will may not provide the results you want for children from a prior marriage.   If your surviving spouse dies without a will, state intestate laws do not provide for step children.     The parents or siblings of your surviving spouse will inherit any property you gave to a surviving spouse before state intestate laws grant any inheritance rights to your children from a first marriage.      If you think a surviving spouse has provided for your children from a first marriage in their will, remember a will is a revocable document.   A surviving spouse has the right to change a will after you die and give property you intended to be left to your children from a first marriage  to his or her children from another marriage.

We no longer die fast.     As we age, we lose our ability to manage our own affairs.    Our children are often our caregivers.    A caregiver may believe they deserve more than other siblings for taking care of their parents.

In a recent conversation with an estate planning lawyer, we talked about the growing demand for estate planning lawyers with litigation experience.   He explained families usually fight for two reasons.  The siblings fight because they believe the caregiver doesn’t deserve any special treatment.  The children from a first marriage and a surviving spouse from a second marriage fight because the children want to protect their future inheritance.

Banana sheaves & bamboo – unusual combo for a casket? Not anymore.

Many people today are looking for a green burial solution.  That’s one that doesn’t use chemicals that pollute the earth and doesn’t leave a body in a metal casket for many years.  They also want something that is cost effective.  Two such solutions have been around for years – cardboard and wood.  A cardboard coffin can cost as little as $50 and weighs next to nothing.  A plain wooden box – often made of pine – can cost anywhere from $500 up and weighs between 80 and 90 pounds.  A third solution has just been introduced – a casket made of banana sheaves and bamboo.   It’s cost starts at $800, weighs about 80 pounds and is completely biodegradable.

Does the combination of banana sheaves and bamboo sound weird?  You may not know that in the 1950′s and 1960′s funeral homes often used woven baskets to transport bodies from health facilities.   And wicker coffins were popular in the United States for many years.   

So if you’re looking for a green, cost friendly casket in which to bury a loved one, this is an option you should consider.

HR3200- Health Care Reform and “Death Panels”

58% of the news in the last 3 days has focused on health care reform.   A lot of discussion has centered on proposed legislation regarding “death panels” and end of life counseling.     How can 10 pages in a bill that is 1017 pages long cause so much fear and rhetoric?

Here’s our insight about these 10 pages..and the Health Care Reform Bill.
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Estate Tax Update

Current estate tax laws:

In 2001, Congress passed the existing federal estate tax laws.   The 2001 legislation gradually raised the federal estate tax exemption allowance from $1 million to $3.5 million and reduced the estate tax rate from 55 percent to 45 percent.    

In 2009, the federal estate exemption allowance is $3.5 million and the top federal estate tax rate is 45 percent.  

In the year 2010, no one would owe any estate tax, no matter what the value of your estate was. 

In the year 2011, the estate tax rules would revert to the laws existing in 2001.   In 2001, the federal estate exemption allowance was $1 million and the estate tax rate was 55 percent.

2010 Congressional Budget Resolution

In May, 2009, the House and Senate each approved the 2010 Congressional Budget Resolution.   Language within this bill extends the 2009 estate tax exemption allowance of $3.5 million and the top estate tax rate of 45 percent for the year 2010 and beyond.    Like the current laws, the exemption is for an individual.  Married couples would need to do some tax planning in order for their estate to exempt $7 million of their estate from estate taxes.

The budget resolution is not law, but suggests there is agreement in both the Senate and the House to extend the existing 2009 estate tax rules into 2010 and beyond.

Under 2009 law, the Urban-Brookings Tax Institute Policy estimates 97.5% of all estates will not be subject to estate tax.

An Act of Congress describing the details of the estate tax changes and making such changes the law is expected before the end of 2009.