Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Inspirational Author - Forrest Church

Sadly, some people take on the task of estate planning following the diagnosis of a terminal illness. For some, reading about another person’s similar journey may bring a sense of comfort during this process. One such book was recently featured on NPR’s Fresh Air. Love & Death: My Journey
through the Valley of the Shadow by the Reverend Forrest Church offers readers a meditation on the end of life. As a member of Madison’s First Unitarian Society, this story caught my attention because Rev. Church is Minister of Public Theology for the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City. A link to the radio broadcast is available off of NPR’s web site.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

National Estate Planning Week

October 20 - 26th is National Estate Planning Week. All too often I hear people say, "I'm not a Kennedy, I do not need an estate plan!" Nothing could be farther from the truth. As I've said over and over at estate planning seminars, everyone over age 18 should take the time to complete estate planning documents. The reason, one word, control. If you don't take the time to state your wishes you are leaving decisions open for a government official or court to decide. Take control and complete some basic forms. To me estate planning is 3 things: planning for illness, death and taxes. ...none of which anyone can avoid. Learn more about National Estate Planning Week at www.napec.org

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

House Deeds and Children

In the past week I have had two clients ask me if they should add their child to the deed to their home so that they’ll inherit it when they die. Of course, the answer is it depends. But here are a few points I told them to consider when evaluating the option.

First, if they already have a will or a trust ownership of the home will transfer according to the terms of the will or trust. In both cases the client’s wills gave the property to the children.

Second, adding a child to a home’s deed equates to giving the child(ren) a gift. If the gift is worth $12,000 or more, then the parent will be responsible for a gift tax.

Third, in Wisconsin a transfer fee would be owed to the Department of Revenue at the time the child(ren) was added to the deed.

And forth, gifting property transfers the parent’s cost basis to the child. If the property were inherited by the child the child would receive a step-up in cost basis, most likely minimizing future capital gains taxes the child would own if the property were sold after they took ownership.

After considering these points, neither client opted to add their child to the deed to their home. Curious as to why this question was coming up (after the will had already been done), both indicated that the idea had been posed to them by a title company. My guess is that in the slowing real estate market some companies are looking to drum up business. And if they are trying to push you into something, they are likely selling something you don’t need. As always, seek counsel from a neutral party before taking action.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How Does a Divorce Impact A Will?

Under Wisconsin law, all provisions in a will that favor a former spouse or a former spouse’s relatives are automatically and fully revoked. However, it is still advisable to seek legal counsel following a divorce because a will only controls distribution of probate property. If you own non-probate property (property that has a completed beneficiary form), the beneficiary form controls distribution of the property, not the will.

Also, following a divorce it would be wise to update your powers of attorney for health care and or finance to reflect who should be making decisions if you are unable to.