Guardians of Your Own Galaxy

The most important item in estate planning for parents of minor children remains “Who will take care of our kids if something happens to us?”  Many considerations properly go into who to select as the legal Guardian for minors.  Parents, biological and adoptive, may decide who shall serve as Guardians of their minor children if the parents die.  Virtually every state requires that Guardians be nominated by the parents through a written, signed instrument.  A Will is the most-often utilized document for this purpose.  In the absence of proper Guardian nomination, a judge (and not your family) decides who will raise your children.

Nominate Guardians you trust to provide love and care for your children.  Also consider the ability and willingness of the Guardian to follow instructions or guidance left behind.  Guardians need not be family members if others may be better suited.  If you nominate a couple as Guardians, define what happens in the event of divorce.  If your Guardian does not live local, who will relocate?  A non-US citizen can be a Guardian, but plan carefully as many, many issues become implicated with that choice.  

Providing financially for your minor children’s well-being should also be spelled out clearly for the Guardians.  You could leave a lump sum amount to the Guardians to raise your children (really bad idea!).  Or, funds could be placed in a Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) account.  UTMA accounts are relatively simple and have few transaction costs.  UTMA accounts need a Custodian, but not a Trustee.  However, UTMA accounts “age out” meaning that all assets become the property of child at a certain age (usually 18 or 21).  Or, funds could be placed in a Trust.  You can set the terms of the Trust; define life events (e.g., graduation) or ages for distributions; provide extended creditor or asset protection; and allow for Trust modification if things change.

If you have minor children, properly name and plan for a Guardian in your estate documents.  If you have not done so, contact Michael Geiger at Geiger Law for assistance with Guardians as well as all your estate planning needs.

I Have an Estate Plan.  I’m OK, Right?

We have been trained to regularly address aspects in our lives.  Each year we change the batteries in smoke detectors.  Every 3,000 miles we change the oil.  Every six months we (should) visit the dentist for a checkup.  We know that all parts of our lives need to be addressed and maintained.

What about our estate plans?  You spent all that time and energy to carefully craft that plan to address your wishes if you become incapacitated as well as after you pass.  It’s done.  Place it on the shelf and forget about it, right?  Your life is not static and neither should be your estate plan.  These vital documents need to be reviewed and maintained like everything else in your life.

What could possibly impact your completed estate plan?  Here are some gems:

Changes in the Law.  On January 1, 2020, a new federal law dramatically changed how inherited qualified retirement plan and 401(k) money would be treated for tax purposes.  Those changes impact the perceived benefits built into many estate plans drafted prior to that date.  Congress keeps changing the rules and your estate plan needs to keep up.

Your Family Has Grown.  Perhaps your family has grown with new children or grandchildren.  Perhaps your family doubled in size when you became a blended family.  Do your estate plan documents address these new additions?

Your Family Has Shrunk.  Divorce happens.  Do you still want your ex-spouse as your designated Health Care Agent to make life and death medical decisions if you are incapacitated?  Update those records!

Do not let your estate plan to become outdated.  Contact Michael Geiger at Geiger Law for assistance with all your estate planning needs, including review of your established plan documents.

COVID-19 As a Motivator

Estate planning involves so much more than getting a will.  In fact, most estate plan documents address circumstances which arise during your life.  One such vital planning document is the Health Care Power of Attorney (“HCPOA”).  It has taken the severe and far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 to pique my clients’ interest in HCPOAs.

With the background of the uncertainties brought about by this pandemic, let’s take a deeper look at one aspect of HCPOAs: the Health Care Agent (“Agent”).  In the HCPOA, you name the person(s) to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are too ill or you are unable to communicate.  The Agent will have the power to consent to treatment plans, accept or refuse treatments, and decide upon the medical care providers and facilities for you.  The Agent should be guided by your instructions in the HCPOA.  Consider the following factors in selecting your Agent:

Emotional Maturity.  When called upon, the circumstances will be stressful for the Agent.  The Agent needs to be able to think and act rationally in an emotional environment.  The person needs to be your advocate even if differing opinions are offered by loved ones.

Location and Willingness.  Ideally, the Agent should be close by and able to act on your behalf in the event of an emergency.  The Agent may also need to function over an extended period with access to you critical.  In this regard, the role could prove to be time consuming and emotionally draining.  The Agent needs the time to advocate for you.

Honoring Your Wishes.  The Agent’s duty is to make decisions in accord with your instructions, even if the Agent disagrees with your wishes.  The Agent must be someone who can set aside his or her own opinions and carry out your instructions no matter what.

Selecting an Agent could prove tricky.  We can assist in this choice as well as other choices to set up your estate plan.  Contact Michael Geiger at Geiger Law for assistance with these and all your estate planning needs.

Cryptocurrency, Or . . . Keeping Up With the Jetsons

We can readily envision George Jetson paying for his flying car with cryptocurrency.  Whether George favors Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin or other cryptocurrencies, digital money transferred over the internet still strikes some as futuristic.  The reality is that cryptocurrencies are now well-entrenched in our economic system both as internet money and as investment vehicles even with recent questions about the longer-term viability of cryptocurrency.

But, be careful!  Cryptocurrencies are by and large unregulated.  While that dynamic may be part of the attraction to users, it also means that laws and regulations have yet to catch up with cryptocurrencies.  Without such oversight, risk follows in areas such as estate planning for cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency is still considered property rather than a currency.  Yet, it cannot be treated as just another asset in your estate plan.  For example, if you leave Bitcoins to your children, they cannot access them absent reaching your digital wallets with the associated 64-digit private keys.  There is nowhere to turn to “reset passwords” or create new logon accounts.  If you die without properly providing this information to others, the Bitcoins would quite literally be lost just as if you lost a jacket or pair of eyeglasses.  The Bitcoins carry slightly more value.

One part of the cure is to use your estate plan to provide for disclosure of cryptocurrency assets and provide a secure manner to transfer the private keys and necessary data to trustees and beneficiaries.  The information can be part of the estate plan or provide clear guidance as to how to access the information.  This information must be kept up to date as well.  We can build in solutions to meet your practices and needs.

If you want to join the George Jetson crowd, you need to incorporate passing on this special asset in your estate plan.  Contact Michael Geiger at Geiger Law for assistance with cryptocurrencies and all your estate planning needs.

Divorce Finalized.  Now What?  Plan for Your Future! Part 2: Incapacity Planning.

New potential clients routinely and casually advise that their estate plan prepared during a prior marriage has never been updated.  When I let them know that the ex-spouse may still hold the power to make decisions on their behalf, including life and death medical decisions, they quickly understand the need to revisit their estate plan.  Either as part of, or immediately after divorce, careful consideration of any estate plan needs to be a high priority.  If no estate plan exists, it is then time to invest in one.

Any meaningful estate plan includes so much more than a will.  You should use an estate plan to address potential needs during your life as well as plan for when you pass.  Your estate plan, in addition to a will or trust structure, at a minimum, should include the following:



General Durable Power of Attorney

If you become incapacitated, a designated representative(s) can manage your business affairs per your specific instructions.

Advanced Health Care Power of Attorney  

If you become incapacitated, a designated representative(s) can make medical decisions, including life-sustaining choices, on your behalf per your specific instructions.

Living Will

Expression of end of life medical choices.

HIPPA Authorizations

Allows listed individuals access to your medical information if you are not able to authorize such access.

These documents serve as your protection if you are not able to express your wishes during your life.  Once established, there is no need to go to court.  There is no delay.  And, make certain that these documents reflect your choice of those to act as your agents (and most probably not your ex-spouse!) if ever called upon. 

To learn more about comprehensive estate plans, contact Michael Geiger at Geiger Law.  Michael’s direct line is (901) 219-5549.

Divorce Finalized. Now What? Plan for Your Future! Part 1:  Resources Exist for You.

The divorce process itself is traumatic.  But what about the time when the dust begins to settle on that process and you begin to find your own new normal and your new comfort zone?  It may assist to take stock of where you are and better define (or plan) for any new direction.  The unknown and unknowable future may be frightening.  However, you need not address the challenges on your own.

In addition to any network of family and friends, you can and should turn to others who can assist in various parts of your life.  If not done, establish a relationship with a financial advisor or wealth management professional.  Having your own accountant at this time will assist you.  Secure the services of an insurance broker who understands your new risk profile.  These types of professionals can assist to ensure that your assets such as bank accounts, 401(k) plans, pension plans, and insurance policies properly identify new beneficiaries and stakeholders as needed.

And think about your estate, most especially if you already have an existing estate plan in place.  Once a divorce is finalized, an existing estate plan is usually outdated, or worse, contrary to your new circumstances, desires and goals. 

Any estate planning documents you created during your marriage most probably included your now ex-spouse as a beneficiary or designated the ex-spouse as the person authorized to make medical or business decisions on your behalf.  You need to determine your desired new structure to manage your affairs.  Planning ahead will prevent costly and time consuming delays if you are ever incapacitated.  More importantly, your instructions, desires and wishes will be clearly spelled out for all.  

The stress and challenges of new circumstances brought on with divorce cannot be avoided.  They nonetheless can be managed.  Part of these new beginnings should include proper estate planning to meet your new conditions.  Geiger Law can assist.  Contact Michael Geiger at (901) 219-5549 or [email protected].

94 Cents Sends A Message

Living Trusts and Wills provide methods to share feelings about those in your life.  For some, the message is not always positive.  A few examples illustrate the messaging flexibility in estate plans.  First is the category of “silence speaks volumes”.  A Living Trust or Will may make absolutely no mention of someone who believed that inclusion in the estate would be a given.  That person is left to wonder, perhaps for all their remaining time, if there had been some mistake or oversight.  Second is express disinheritance.  The Living Trust or Will can name someone and then explicitly state that the person is disinherited and shall receive nothing under any circumstances.  Third is the nominal gift or bequest.  Most clients using this technique want to leave $1 as inheritance.  The message is clear: I know you are there and $1 states your value to me.  No further explanation.  Ouch.

Then there is 94 cents.  A client determined that 94 cents provides the maximum number of coins to be left to someone and this client felt that coins were worthless.  The client worried that if $1 were left, it could be used to buy a lottery ticket – and the ticket could be a winner.  Or, the $1 could be a tip for a barista in a coffee shop with the coffee shop folks then believing that the tipper was a stand-up guy.  Or, the $1 could be carried around as a prop in a story to explain the miserly or petty nature of the deceased.  The $1 could not be used against the deceased – 94 cents it is!

I recommend stripping away the vitriol and use gifts in a manner to encourage positive behavior.  Leave grievances behind.  But, if you are compelled to leave 94 cents to that someone so very special, I can assist.  If you have not done so, contact Michael Geiger at Geiger Law for all your estate planning needs.

Back to School!

It’s Back to School time, even for college students.  Perhaps your own college student does not know where your washer and dryer are located in your house.  Your own college student would not know how to unload a dishwasher which has always, magically, unloaded itself.  Yet, college students are adults in the eyes of the law even though their parents know otherwise.

As adults, they need their own basic estate plan documents such as a Health Care Power of Attorney, HIPPA Authorization, and Business Affairs Power of Attorney.  The Health Care Power of Attorney allows those so authorized to make medical decisions on behalf of the person who is now incapacitated.  The Business Affairs Power of Attorney similarly permits the designated Attorney in Fact to manage business decisions for the incapacitated person, including insurance and banking decisions.  

The HIPPA Authorization may prove invaluable.  If your college student ends up receiving medical care, but is not in a position to advise who should receive medical information about the condition, the hospital or medical provider are precluded from releasing information to others – even Mom and Dad, absent a court order.  

Without these basic documents, Mom and Dad may be left entirely in the dark left to worry and wonder.  Or, Mom and Dad can arrange to secure these type of protections for their children while they are away at school – even if being “away” is attending the University of Memphis.  Attorney Michael Geiger can help with these needs and also address your own estate plan.  

Speak from Beyond, and Be Heard!

You can speak from beyond through your estate plan.  Each Living Trust I draft includes a Statement of Intent.  This trust section may carry little legal significance, but is often carefully crafted and reviewed by clients.  Clients can share heartfelt thoughts, provide best wishes and guidance, or even a caution or a stern warning.  These words are those of the client and they speak directly to others.  These words resonate.

The Statement of Intent serves multiple purposes.  If the Living Trust is ever challenged, provisions in the Statement of Intent may provide guidance to a court sitting in review or your future Trustees.  Dear cousin Agnes could be left out of the Living Trust for good reason as the Grantors of the trust amply provided for Agnes during their lives.  The Living Trust may be but a part of the entire estate plan with other trusts addressing distinct issues and assets which otherwise would be included in the Living Trust.  Simple statements can assist those who must interpret or administer the trust in the future.

Perhaps even more significant is the ability to use the Statement of Intent as the opportunity to provide specific messages to loved ones or others left behind.  Remind the beneficiaries that gifts have been left out of love and affection to make their lives easier or better.  If there may be the possibility of strife, remind the beneficiaries that you want to ensure that there are no fights over mere material possessions.  Or, like one of my clients, directly threaten the beneficiaries that if there are any such fights, the deceased will find a way to return to haunt them for the rest of their days!

The guidance can be as specific as the client desires.  If education, military service or religious endeavors are of paramount importance, directly tell those left behind through this Statement of Intent.  You can also counsel against certain activities or behaviors through this provision.  I have found that once they understand its power, clients embrace using this Statement of Intent to keep their messages alive.  If you would like assistance with your own Statement of Intent as part of your comprehensive estate plan, contact Michael Geiger at Geiger Law.

Who Will Feed Fido?

Dog Days Summer

67% of US households own a pet.  That means 85 million families have at least one pet!  54% have a dog and 29% own a cat.  These statistics translate to a large number of furry friends among us.  We love our pets.  We care for our pets and generally spoil them ridiculously.  Part of our pet care can also include planning when we are gone, but Fido and Fluffy remain here.  Pet Trusts can help you.

You provide for spouse.  You provide for your children and grandchildren.  You provide for all those important to you.  Are you going to simply leave your pets behind and guess that someone will figure out that they like the squeaky ball?  Will just anyone know that peanut butter is their favorite food?  Alternatively, you can provide specific instructions and the funding necessary for care and well-being in a Pet Trust.

Consider the following when creating a Pet Trust for your critters:  Identify the pets, the trustee(s), and the caregiver(s); Provide a detailed description of the pet’s standard of care and standard of living; Detail the instructions for the pet’s diet, including dietary restrictions; List veterinary information and medical history; Provide funding for the caregiver and identify how costs are to be distributed; and Give details for arrangements after the pet passes.

Each state has some provisions for Pet Trusts.  In Tennessee, the Pet Trust lasts for the life of the named animal and no longer than 90 years (think parrots).  All trust property must be used for the benefit of the named animal.  The value of Pet Trust assets cannot exceed the amount of funds necessary for the intended use.  A Pet Trust may have a trustee, trust advisor and even a trust protector.

The tools are in place to protect Fido.  Contact Michael Geiger at Geiger Law for assistance with providing for your fur-faced friends and all your estate planning needs.