Articles Posted in Family Issues

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loneliness-2308923_640-300x200A few months ago, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Single? No Children? No Will? Big Mistake.” I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since. The author writes, “Certain people never reach one of those obvious points in their lives to write one. If you are unmarried in middle age, do not have children and have never had a devastating disease or brush with death, making plans for what happens to your stuff if you’re not around may not feel pressing.”

The author is so right. I have met many people who somehow feel that, because they don’t have children, they don’t need an estate plan. But here’s the thing — people without children may have even MORE need to make a plan that those with kids.

For one thing, all of us, at some point, are going to get sick or otherwise incapacitated, and need someone to act on our behalf — to pay bills, maintain our homes, or make medical decisions. Estate planning is not just about transferring assets when you die, it is also about planning for incapacity. And everyone needs to do that.

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money signI was recently at a friend’s house, and, accidentally made someone’s day. This is not a usual occurrence for me, but I did enjoy it.  Here’s what happened: a woman that I didn’t know told me that she had inherited her parents’ house in Berkeley. Because she had inherited it from her parents, she also was able to keep their very low property tax rate. Her problem was that she thought that she’d like to sell that house and buy a new one, but was worried that her property tax rate would skyrocket as a result.

Here’s what she didn’t know: if she waits until next year, when she turns 55, and purchases a new home that’s worth the same or less than the residence that she is selling, and buys the new house within two years of selling the old one, she can keep her old property tax base for the new house. She has to sell her old house to a new owner so that the new home can be reassessed for property tax purposes and she has to file a claim for exclusion from reassessment on the new property within three years of the purchase. In tax language, this is called “transfer of base year value,” which is the value that the county assessors use to calculate the property tax owed each year.

This is a one-time exclusion from reassessment for those over 55. So, the next time she sells her home and buys a new one, her property taxes will go up. Proposition 60, passed in 1986, established this exception for intra-county transfers–that’s Latin for WITHIN a county. So, if my new acquaintance stays in Alameda county, and otherwise follows these rules, she won’t be reassessed.

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BabyNew parents face so many new challenges–from figuring out how car seats work to figuring out how babies work. I remember taking a deep breath as we opened the door of the hospital, loaded our daughter into the car (including several annoying moments in the parking lot trying to gently put her new born and limp body into the brand new car seat) and out into a whole new world.

Part of that world includes estate planning. I built my practice, in the early days, by giving workshops at preschools, parenting groups and new parent groups at all of the local hospitals. New parents are often sleep deprived, terrified, and overwhelmed. But here’s what I told them, over and over again — you don’t have to do everything now, just put the basics in place and promise yourself to revisit your estate plan in a few years, when you are getting some sleep.

If you are a new parent, or know one, here are the basics:

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piggy bankCustodial accounts are an easy way to hold money for a minor child’s benefit. They have many advantages.  They’re free-it’s easy to open up a custodial account at any bank or financial services company.  (You’ll know if an account is custodial in California because it will say “CUTMA” on the statement, which stands for California Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.)

They’re simple-a custodial account can hold cash, or other assets, for the benefit of a minor until a certain age (in California, until age 21 if the account is established during life; 25 if created by a Will or a trust after a death). They work as intended – when the property is transferred to the CUTMA account, the child becomes the legal owner, but has no control over the money until the account ends, when they are old enough, presumably, to properly manage it. Until that time, the account’s custodian can use the money for that child’s benefit.

But what do you do if they get too big? I’ve had more than one client come into my office terrified because their children are going to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars way before their parents think that would be a good idea. Some of you are, no doubt, rolling your eyes in mock horror, but this can be a source of great stress for parents. Imagine, for example, that a well-meaning grandparent bought Pretend Co. stock when it was at $7/share (in 2002) and gave 2000 shares of stock to a custodial account for your child. Fourteen years later, that stock is now worth $104/share and worth $208,000! And your adorable child is now a goofy 17 year old, interested more in texting, dating, and driving than careful investing.

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kid and mom travelIt’s summer and families are on the move.  Some of them are crossing borders. And it turns out that in this day and age, in addition to passports, tablets, and endless patience, parents also need to consider whether or not they’ll need a permission letter as well.

If you are traveling internationally with minor children and are either doing it solo, or are not the child’s parents, be prepared to be asked for a document showing that you have permission to do so.

A Minor Travel Consent Form has become an increasingly necessary document. Here’s how the US Customs & Border Protection Service puts it on their website: “Due to the increasing incidents of child abductions in disputed custody cases and as possible victims of child pornography, Customs and Border Protection strongly recommends that unless a child is accompanied by both parents, the adult have a note from the child’s other parent (or, in the case of a child traveling with grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters or brothers, friends or in groups, a note signed by both parents) stating “I acknowledge that my wife/husband/etc. is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter/group. He/She/They have my permission to do so.”

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shutterstock_265887227On October 5, 2015, Governor Brown signed the End of Life Option Act into law. The law requires that two doctors determine that a patient has six months or less to live before the lethal drugs can be prescribed. Patients also must be mentally competent to make medical decisions and be able to swallow the medication themselves and must affirm in writing, 48 hours before taking the medication, that they will do so.

But the law, when passed, wasn’t to become effective until 91 days after the adjournment of a special legislative session on health care, and no one knew exactly when that was going to happen. Now we do.  That session ended on March 10, 2016, which means that the law will be effective as of June 9, 2016.

Since this is a new law and a new policy for the state, it is going to take time for both the public and doctors to fully understand how the process is going to work and what the legal requirements are for compliance.

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QuestionmanIf the answer to that question is, “N0!” you are in good company. A recent survey by Caring.com of 1,000 adults found that less than half of the adults surveyed (45.8%) knew where their parents’ documents were.

When asked if they even knew whether or not their parents had an estate plan in place, only about half (55.4%) said that they did.

When asked if they knew the contents of their parents’ estate plans, only 42% said that they knew what was in those plans.

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nostalgia-499988_640Estate planning is often motivated by the big things. I’m not getting philosophical here. Forget about life and death. On a practical level, what brings families into my office are often the big financial assets–the house, the brokerage accounts, the retirement assets, and a concern that these assets be shared equitably by loved ones. And I, like most estate planners, do my best to write trusts and Wills that do just that.

But, often, it is the little things that can become contentious after a parent dies. From Dad’s stamp collection, to (I kid you not) a parent’s lawnmower, I’ve seen families fight over things that weren’t even on their loved one’s radar when the estate plan was written. Somehow these physical object (in legalese this stuff is known as ‘tangible personal property’) can become the locus of much hurt feeling and much passion, seemingly to become imbued with a deceased person’s essence, or to evoke their memories in a way that money cannot.

Often, fights over tangible personal items becomes especially fraught when there are multiple marriages, with a surviving spouse and children of prior marriages sparring over a loved one’s personal items. I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately because of Robin Williams.  Less than six months after his death, his third wife and his children from his first and second marriages are involved in litigation over alleged ambiguities in what seems, from a distance, to be a well-drafted and thoughtful estate plan. As reported in the New York Times, here’s some of what they are fighting about:

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shutterstock_128072579The New York Times published an interesting story this weekend on the expectations that parents and children have with respect to inheritances. The article summarized a study published in The Gerontologist last year, in which older adults and their children were polled on whether or not they expected to leave or inherit an inheritance.

It turns out that 86.2% of the parents expected to leave their children something, but only 44.6% of the kids were expecting to receive anything.  Interestingly, the adult children who were getting money from their parents during life had a higher expectation about getting more after their parents died than did children who were not receiving such support. Even more interesting, adult children who were providing support for their elderly parents were less likely to expect an inheritance, even though their parents were more likely to leave one. (The article doesn’t say what ‘support’ means here and whether it was financial or more in the realm of help with daily living.)

Psychologists opine that older adults feel morally obligated to provide for their adult children, partly out of concern for their children’s ability to maintain a similar standard of living, given the decline in earning power, and partly out of a sense that family matters most.

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headlamp-2940_150This week, an elderly driver lost control of his car and crashed into a cafe on University Avenue in Palo Alto, injuring six, including himself. News reports say that the driver was trying to park, and accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal.

As we, or our parents, age, the question of when someone should stop driving is almost certain to come up.  While it is true that impaired driving isn’t always a factor of age, it is also true that as we age our reactions slow, our vision declines, our hearing decreases, our flexibility and strength decline, cognitive and decision making ability changes, and our judgment about our ability to drive isn’t always objective.

Sometimes people can recognize their decline and voluntarily decide to stop driving. Sometimes family and friends have to step in and question whether or not it’s safe for someone to continue to drive. It is difficult for both the older driver and the family to discuss this issue, but the literature repeatedly warns families NOT to postpone the conversation because it is difficult or unpleasant. Instead, they should focus on safety and preventing accidents.