Do I need an estate plan?

I saw a recent article that estimated that 65% of Americans do not have the basic last will in place. Among other things, the article suggests that most people think estate planning is only for the “wealthy.”

With such a significant increase in the estate tax exemption over the last five years (the 2015 estate tax exemption will likely be $5.43 million), it is easy to think that most Americans do not feel that estate planning is necessary for them.

I think the real reason that people don’t have estate plans is much more primitive. Most of us do not wish to face our mortality. We are in meetings each day with clients who are often intimidated by discussions involving death. This is certainly understandable; heck, I used to say “if you pass away” in meetings.  There’s no “ifs” in death! If you have loved ones, you must overcome this fear to have a well thought out estate plan put in place.

The reality is that estate planning is for any adult who wishes to decide how his or her assets would be distributed at death. If you do not have a Will, the State of Florida (and most states) is kind enough to determine who would get your assets at your death. You might get lucky and have your assets distributed the same individuals under the so-called free Will from the State as you would under a Will that you would create. Or, it may be significantly different.

When thinking about estate planning, start with the basics:

  • Last Will and Testament to outline who would receive your assets and your death;
  • Durable Power of Attorney to allow someone to take care of your bills while you’re living; and
  • Medical Directives to name someone who can make health care decisions if you cannot make them on your own.

Conversations on estate planning can get much more involved, but starting with these basics will allow you to overcome the fear (and possible anxiety) in having these discussions. Want to chat about your estate plan, give us a call! We’d be honored to help.

Make your List and keep it current

Most of our clients understand that we handle estate and corporate planning matters. For personal planning, we work towards forming an orderly plan to dispose of assets at the time of death. For corporate planning, our work varies – sometimes we advise clients regarding the type of entity to use; assist in contract review, negotiation and preparation; and business succession planning.

What is not as well known is the depth of our estate administration (a.k.a. probate) practice. We routinely advise clients’ loved ones on how to carry out the plans that were made for their benefit. A reoccurring issue that comes up in our meetings is trying to find information.

In the absence of keeping information organized, your loved ones will have a heck of a time locating and gathering information about your assets and bills. That’s not to say that they won’t be able to do it; however, it can certainly take a long time. This is made even worse when you think about how many statements you receive through your email account.

In the “old” days (and yes, I feel really old saying that), we would advise clients’ families to collect their loved one’s bills for a few months. Once those items are collected, a good list of assets and bills could be assembled. Unfortunately, while we still need to do that, we find that this approach is simply not enough.

Please make it a part of your estate planning to make a list of your assets. In this list, include bank names and account numbers. Don’t forget to add usernames and passwords for all online accounts, including your email addresses. Because this will change frequently, I encourage you to update your list once a year – perhaps when you are gathering your tax materials for your accountant.

When you make your list, print it out and keep it in a place where your designated representative(s) can locate it without difficulty. You can also upload it into The DocSafe, but if your family does not know that you use this service, the list won’t do you much good.

Interested in saving $400?

This is our last reminder to those of you who procrastinate!  If you own a company or are responsible for filing your company’s Florida Annual Report, you have until May 1, 2014 to file.  The penalty for filing late is significant – $400.

Information on filing an Annual Report can be obtained at www.sunbiz.org.  You can submit your Annual Report and pay the filing fee online. To do this, you will need the document number assigned to the business by the State.  This number is located in an email that you should have received from the State in January.  If you do not receive an email (or you did not retain it), you can locate the number by searching the Sunbiz website for your business record.  Feel free to give our office a call if you would like us to walk you through the filing process FREE OF CHARGE.   We will gladly help you with this process!

The filing fees are as follows:

Filed by May 1      Filed after May 1

·         For profit corporation:               $150.00                   $550.00

·         Limited partnership:                   $500.00                  $900.00

·         Limited liability company:            $138.75                  $538.75

Also, do not forget that the act of filing your Annual Report does not negate the responsibility of businesses from following all statutory requirements to maintain those businesses, such as holding annual shareholder and board meetings (e.g., for corporations).