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Estate Planning After Remarriage

There are triggering events which make estate planning, or editing an estate plan, necessary in Oregon. Remarriage is one of these triggers. This is especially true if your new marriage includes children from previous marriages, stepchildren, and additional children from your current marriage.

Even in the most well-adjusted blended families, death challenges relationships. This makes a clear estate plan vital if you want to provide for family members while also reducing conflict. You must also avoid making the same estate planning assumptions that are appropriate in first marriages but are likely to backfire in subsequent ones. Here are four unique considerations when creating an estate plan after remarriage.

Conflicts of Interest

The natural inclination is to leave everything to your spouse and for your spouse to do the same. This is a safe avenue in first marriages when children only come from that marriage.

Remarriage changes that dynamic. If you pass all your property and money to your current spouse, understand that they have no obligation to consider your children from a previous marriage. Your death may create distance between them and if your current spouse outlives you considerably, he or she will be more likely to account for his or her own children and any new spouse. They are not likely to pass property to your children, especially if they have not spoken to each other for years.

One solution is to place your property in trust to provide income to your current spouse. Once your spouse passes away, remaining property is distributed to your children. You may include children from both your previous and current marriages and any stepchildren in that distribution.

If you decide to take this approach, appoint an uninterested third party to serve as trustee. Otherwise, there is a strong possibility of a conflict of interest based on self-interest.

If you appoint your spouse as the trustee, they may choose to invest your assets in low-yield options that leave nothing for your children once your spouse passes away. Likewise, your children may choose more long-term approaches that leave your current spouse inadequate income. An independent trustee is more likely to manage assets to everyone’s advantage.

Beneficiary Designations

Sometimes, the best approach to provide for children is with non-probate assets. Making them beneficiaries on your life insurance, retirement, and investment accounts is an excellent way of ensuring they receive something after your death. You are then safe to pass property and money to your spouse through your will.

This strategy is easier and less expensive than a trust but it requires attention to detail. Check the beneficiary designations on these assets and change them now. Most importantly, let your family know you made these changes and why. You do not want your spouse to expect a life insurance payout only to find out after your death that they are no longer entitled to those funds.

Agent Appointments

Your estate plan will likely include an advance directive and a durable power of attorney. These cover decision-making should you become incapacitated. The advance directive appoints a health care representative who makes health care decisions on your behalf. A power of attorney appoints an agent who manages your financial and business affairs if you are unable to do so.  A power of attorney dies when you do.

Spouses are often the first choice for these appointments. In blended families, this may not be the best idea. Hurt feelings and conflict can arise if your children from a previous marriage do not feel your spouse is acting in your best interest or puts his or her self-interest above your needs.

You are better off choosing family members who are suited to these tasks rather than focus on relationship status. For example, you may discuss end-of-life decisions more frequently with an adult child rather than your spouse. Your child may listen better while your spouse shuts down when you bring up the topic. Or you may run a small business with a daughter, who is likely a better candidate to be your power of attorney.

The important part is, you want to appoint individuals to get along well with all family members, including your spouse. If there is so much tension that this is impossible, consider appointing someone outside your immediate blended family, like a close friend or sibling.

Dangers of Intestacy (when you don’t have a Will)

It may be tempting to do nothing and let intestate statutes take control. This may seem to prevent difficult discussions but it will only lead to many, many problems for your loved ones after you pass away.

Intestate succession only considers blood relatives. It will ensure support for spouses, children, parents, and even siblings. But if you are close to your stepchildren and want them to inherit assets or take over a small business, intestate succession will not allow that. Your stepchildren may also have special needs that you want to be provided for if you pass away. Again, intestate succession will not even take them in account, even if you had a close relationship. This only changes if you adopted them, which often does not occur if you remarry their parent when they are adults.

Blended families offer distinct estate planning challenges, but they are not surmountable. Find solutions by discussing them with an Oregon estate planning attorney. Call Diane L. Gruber today to schedule a consultation.

Tax Reform Benefits For The Newly Single

Divorce is often necessary but there is no doubt that it causes financial hardship. Households that were once supported by two incomes are now supported by one. Even if it was only a one-income household before, that still places the non-working spouse in serious uncertainty.

Taxes are the last problem you need when you are newly divorced or planning on it. Fortunately, the tax reforms arising from the Tax Cuts and Job Act offer new advantages to single taxpayers, including parents. Here are four of them.

No Tax on Spousal Support

A 75-year-old law made spousal support a tax deduction for the one paying it but taxable income for the party receiving it. This was determined at a time when women’s opportunities for advancement were limited. So, this scheme was implemented to assure tax revenue when alimony was the only income received by a former spouse.

Spousal support still primarily benefits women with the Census Bureau estimating that 98 percent of recipients are female. But permanent awards of spousal support where former wives never return to work are rare. Most awards are temporary to allow time to develop marketable skills and secure an acceptable standard of living.

 

Even with the prospect of improved future income, taxing these benefits can still be a hardship–especially if the spouse returns to school or works only part-time in a tough economy. This hardship will no longer be an issue for any divorce proceeding after December 31, 2018. That makes it much easier to start fresh and not worry about a tax burden on top of other financial challenges.

Lower Income Taxes

Not only is your spousal support nontaxable but any income you bring into your household will likely be taxed less.

Before the new act, an annual income of $38,000 was taxed at  25 percent. That was a tremendous impact, especially if your paycheck also decreased further due to child support or health insurance.

However, when you file your 2018 tax returns, your income tax will reduce to 12 percent. This can definitely ease the financial transition of moving from two incomes to one and help you live better on your own.

Improved Deductions

At first glance, eliminating the personal exemption appears to be a disadvantage. However, the new law replaced it with a larger standard deduction that benefits single taxpayers.

Before tax reform, the standard and personal exemptions combined for $10,400 if you filed a single person. With tax reform, the personal exemption is replaced with a higher standard deduction. For singles, that increased to $12,000, which is more than the standard and personal exemption combined.

If you are a single parent who applies the head of household deduction, you will notice a considerable improvement too. This deduction increased from $9,950 to $18,000. Conceivably, a single mother with two children can receive this deduction along with $4,000 in child tax credits–$400 of which is instantly refundable.

Even if your overall income tax only decreased by two to four percent, this new deduction still reduces your total tax burden. In fact, this is enough to move you from a 22 percent tax bracket to the coveted 12 percent spot. That makes a large difference in your take-home income.

Child Tax Credits and Breaks

The child tax credits and breaks either stay at previous levels or increase. Child support remains nontaxable.

There is no dispute that raising children as a single parent can be a hardship, so every tax benefit is helpful. Reforms increase the child tax credit to $2,000 per child with total refunds allowed up to $1,400. The Earned Income Tax Credit, child care credits, and student loan interest deductions remain the same.

You receive these benefits as long as your income as a single person does not exceed $200,000. In 2012, the most recent year these statistics were tracked, the average income for a family headed by a single woman was $25,493. Single father families averaged $36,471 per year. This is well within these tax credits as well as the advantages of the tax bracket adjustments described above.

Diane L. Gruber, Attorney at Law, offers 31 years of experience handling divorce, child custody, spousal support, and child support cases in Oregon. Our office serves Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

You Are Never Too Young For Estate Planning

Estate planning is often associated with middle age or even the retirement years. Millennials, who range in age from 18 to 36, are often too busy managing student loan debt, building careers, and buying homes to give much thought to their mortality. Like other young adults, they may still feel invincible.

On the contrary, these years are the best time to start estate planning. As less traditional family arrangements take over and options expand, you must be prepared in case the worst occurs. If you are younger than 40, here is what you need to do at a minimum for your estate plan and why you should think beyond that.

The Bare Minimum

If you have more debt than assets, never had children, and do not own real estate, it may be difficult to comprehend the importance of a will. There is some truth to this: If you are 24, single, and childless, you likely do not need a large complex estate plan unless you are blessed with early success.

At the very least, start with the bare minimum of estate planning; an advance directive and a power of attorney. Both of these documents are vital for continuing your affairs should you face incapacitation.

Advance Directive

An advance directive outlines your preferences for health care should you be rendered incapable of communicating your treatment preferences. This document appoints a healthcare representative to make these decisions on your behalf and indicates your preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment.

Your health care representative can be anyone you trust with that decision including a parent, sibling, best friend or live-in partner. They will act as your voice when you cannot speak. Before you appoint them, let them know what you plan to do, and perhaps have a conversation regarding your medical preferences.

The advance directive also allows you to limit life-sustaining treatment. Many people prefer not to be kept alive by artificial means if they are rendered permanently incapacitated after an accident or terminal illness. These situations often cause substantial heartbreak not only because of the tragedy involved but also when friends, family, and partners have no idea of your preferences.

You can make this a little easier by making your wishes known through an advance directive. This is a complimentary service when you meet with Diane L. Gruber of Gruber & Associates for estate planning.

Power of Attorney

It is often assumed that if you are incapacitated your spouse, parents or cohabitating partner will handle your affairs for you. Unfortunately, if your accounts and business interests are held only in your name, your helpful loved ones will not be able to access them. This can make it impossible for them to make your student loan payments or even take a pet to the vet.

A power of attorney makes this possible. While you recover from what limits you, the agent you appoint in the power of attorney document can have access to your assets. This allows them to pay your bills and even apply for disability benefits on your behalf. If you do not execute a power of attorney, these tasks become difficult. Depending on the extent of your incapacitation, your loved ones may even have to go to court to appoint a conservator to act on your behalf!

These two documents will help in moments of unexpected developments. However, you should consider a will in case the worst occurs.

Why a Will?

Many young adults fail to execute a will because they focus on what they do not have. They do not own real estate or make a substantial income. Some of you may not have children or even a partner. So, why draft a will?

You draft a will because of what you gained so far in life. Even without a large stock portfolio or a mortgage, there are still items that require care should you meet an untimely demise.

Pets

You consider your pets family but the law still considers them property. Oregon law has slightly backed off from this with court precedent finding that animals have awareness and allowing animal control officers to act on an animal abuse situation with the same urgency as harm to a person. But that does not help your animal from being vulnerable should something happen to you.

Just as you can name a guardian for children in your will, you can also do the same for a pet. You can name your cohabitating partner or a friend who loves your animals. A will also allows you to name a backup guardian in case your primary appointee cannot care for your pets. 

Some people even establish pet trusts to assure good care. You can do this even if you lack assets. Purchase a life insurance policy and make the pet trust your beneficiary. Or if you trust your pet guardian, name them as the beneficiary with the understanding the funds are meant to help them care for your animals.

Basically, establishing a caretaker for your pets in a will assures they are safe if anything happens to you. It also makes the process of rehoming your animals much easier on your family.

Cohabitating Partners

There is a movement away from tradition as more young adults decide to cohabitate before marriage. This can have unfortunate consequences if you pass away.

Unless you marry your partner, they have no rights to your assets after death. The intestate statutes, which dictate the distribution of property when someone dies without a will, do not make allowances for non-married partners. You could be engaged but if you die in a horrible accident the day before the wedding, your partner will still be treated as a non-entity by the intestate proceedings.

This can lead to distressful consequences. For example, let’s say you own a home with a mortgage. If you die, the mortgage holder will liquidate the house to pay off the debt.

If you have a will, you can dictate that the equity from that sale passes to your partner. Even if that is only $3,000, that is still enough for them to find a new place to live. However, without a will, that $3,000 will not pass to your partner. It will first go to any children you have, and if you do not have children, your parents and then to your siblings.

This goes for any property you own, including cars, furniture, and other assets. There is no way you can pass property to an unmarried partner without a will.

Children

If you are a single parent, a will helps you designate guardians for your children. Unless you do so, the court will make this determination.

This is not ideal if you are estranged from your family. Your children may be closer to a friend or your live-in partner. However, the court is more likely to grant custody to family members. Even if you come from a close family, it is likely a particular sibling is better suited to take custody of your children.

Guardianship is another preference that is enforceable only through a will. Even if you do not feel you have any other reason to sign a will, if you have children, this reason alone is sufficient.

Digital Assets

Many millennials appoint “digital executors.” These are people with access to your social media and other online accounts. Their job is to manage your digital assets should something happen to you.

Sites like Twitter and Facebook are notoriously bad at dealing with death. Pages often remain accessible with reminders going out to friends and family about your birthday and other milestone events. Unfortunately, without someone knowing your passwords, it is often impossible to shut down these accounts.

There are other digital assets that could also prove troublesome. If you rent out a room on Airbnb, the platform will continue making that room available for rent until someone shuts down the account. Your family could be at your home grieving and sorting your possessions only for an Airbnb patron to suddenly show up wanting access to the rented room.

Besides these accounts, you likely own Kindle books, iTune music libraries, and maintain subscriptions on Audible or Netflix. Unless you appoint someone to deal with these online accounts, they will likely continue charging bank accounts or accruing balances after you pass away, causing more issues that will delay the closure of your estate.

Other Options

There are other estate planning options that could be relevant to your situation. If your children have special needs or you are a trust beneficiary, you likely need to review your situation and create a more customized estate plan.

Planning now is a good precaution. At the very least, it starts a habit that will make wealth management easier as you become older. To start the estate planning process, contact Diane L. Gruber, Attorney at Law to schedule a consultation.

Help! My Dead Relative Never Executed a Will!

No one is immune to dying without a will. Some people believe it is unnecessary and others never find the time to sit down with an estate planning attorney and make plans. The chances of you discovering that one of your loved ones fell into the same trap is fairly high, considering only 40 percent of Americans have a will or living trust.

The result of this discovery is extra work to top off your period of grief. Here is what to know when your loved one dies intestate in Oregon.

There are Big Differences

Estates are classified as testate or intestate. An intestate estate belongs to an individual who died without a will. The opposite is testate, which means there is an enforceable will in place at the time of death. The estate can also become intestate if there was a will but it failed to meet legal requirements.

Property distribution in intestate estates is determined by statutes, not the decedent’s preference. Even if family members proclaim to know what their loved one truly desired, that is not enforceable unless those wishes are documented in a will.

Property distribution procedure is the primary difference between an intestate and testate estate. Other differences involve administration.

With all probate proceedings, the Court appoints a personal representative (PR) to handle the estate. If there is a will, the court virtually always appoints either the primary PR or the alternative PR who is named in the will.  Since the deceased chose the PR and the will does not require a bond, the court will not require that the PR buy a probate bond.

In an intestate proceeding, the court chooses the personal representative. Normally, this duty is granted to a surviving spouse or child. If the decedent was not married and does not have children, the search will continue to find a suitable relative, even if that person has not seen the deceased for years. While there is more leniency to appoint a live-in partner or friend to this position, it is still done with resistance.

Intestate proceedings also require the PR to buy probate bond. Basically, this is an insurance policy, that protects creditors and heirs if the estate is mishandled. The amount of the bond is determined by the value of the estate, as well as the credit-worthiness of the PR.

When you start an intestate probate proceeding, be prepared to list potential personal representatives and pay for a bond. The first will be easier if you can get all relatives to agree to one person.  If not, a court hearing may be necessary before the judge chooses a PR.

Start Searching

To streamline the probate process, you need comprehensive lists of the following:

  • Possible heirs
  • Real estate holdings
  • Financial accounts, including checking, stock brokerage, and long-term savings
  • Personal property of note, including jewelry and art
  • Debts
  • Income tax records
  • Life insurance policies

Once probate proceedings have begun, you must alert possible heirs within 30 days and provide an inventory of property within 60 days. All creditors must also receive notice of the probate so they can file claims against the estate to pay off the decedent’s debts.

Intestate proceedings often take longer due to this step. People who do not draft wills also fail to communicate on what they actually own. If they were estranged from their family, they may never have communicated with their friends the identity of any family members or even where they live.

This often means hunting down information. If family is unknown, finding heirs is often dependent on published newspaper notices. Since few people share their financial information openly, you often have to request credit reports, search paper files, and review mail to collect a list of property and debts.

If the decedent was working at the time, you need to contact their workplace to see if there were any employer-provided retirement accounts or life insurance policies. Those assets may list beneficiaries who can receive the funds immediately and give you one less item to manage during the probate.

Looking around the decedent’s home, you may need to call in an appraiser to value any art, jewelry or other assets. It is better to assume something has value and discover it does not, than be accused of devaluing the estate later.

Many of these tasks cannot be performed until a personal representative is appointed. But if you can start making a list of what you do find before you start proceedings, it will make it that much easier to compile the required documents.

Consider Options

Depending on your discoveries, you may be able to avoid a full probate process.

This includes using a small estate affidavit. This is a streamlined probate process that addresses estates containing less than $200,000 of real estate and less than $75,000 of personal property or less that $275,000 of the two combined. If the estate meets these qualifications, you can probate the estate and transfer property with an affidavit rather than filing multiple documents with the court.

This often becomes possible because a decedent purchases mainly non-probate assets. If an account or real estate deed contains a joint owner with right of survivorship, those assets are transferred to the survivor immediately.  No probate is necessary. In fact, you do not even have to report them in a small estate affidavit.

If you believe the decedent does not own much in the way of assets, value the estate and talk with a probate attorney before filing anything with the court. That way, you can file the small estate affidavit rather than risking a full probate process for no reason.

Grief already makes the loss of a loved one difficult but when they die without a will, your work has unfortunately just started. In these instances, an Oregon probate attorney can make a big difference in assuring that the probate process goes as smoothly as possible.

Diane L. Gruber, Attorney at Law, handles Oregon testate and intestate probates with confidence so you can worry less. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Consider an Oregon Pet Trust for Your Furred and Feathered Heirs!

In 2005, Oregon passed a statute that allows the creation of pet trusts. This estate planning tool provides for the care of any animals living with you at the time of your death.

Homeless animals are vulnerable to adverse circumstances. It is not a good idea to assume that a family member will take in your pets should something happen to you. The best course of action is to designate a caretaker for your animals and provide resources to ease the financial burden of good care. That is how pet trusts are effective. Here are answers to common questions about this estate planning tool.

What is a pet trust?

Oregon law defines a pet trust as a trust created to provide care for one or more animals alive during the decedent’s lifetime. Like all trusts, it designates a trustee to manage the resources and make decisions regarding an animal’s care.

Like other trusts, this can be a verbal or written agreement. It does not require court filings unless the trust makes reporting a requirement.

Pet trusts last for the life of your animal or if it covers multiple animals, the death of the last surviving animals. Oregon is unique in this rule as other states allowing pet trusts often cap them at 21 years.

Why would I need a pet trust?

It is difficult to know for certain what will happen to your pets if you die. People who fuss over your animals when they visit may be reluctant to take on full-time care. Also, there are some animals, like reptiles, birds or horses, that require specialized care and knowledge that could be expensive.

The pet trust provides more control. You can appoint knowledgeable people as trustees and caretakers once you confirm they are willing to take on the task. Assets may be diverted to a trust through lifetime gifts or a life insurance designation. Since the trust only authorizes payments related to animal care, you know that your assets will be used for the correct purpose.

Also, consider that your animals are more likely to outlive you now than even 20 years ago. Veterinary medicine improvements and better living conditions help dogs and cats live to be nearly 20. Horses can easily live to 30.

Birds are especially long-lived. A well-kept pet parrot can live past 70 years of age. If you are 55 now and currently have a 12-year-old parrot, that bird may end up meeting your great grandchildren!  

How do I choose my animals’ trustee?

First, you want to choose someone who loves your animals. Many people love animals generally but do not necessarily want to live with them. Just because someone fawns over your dog when they visit does not mean they would adopt your dog should you die suddenly.

A friend or family member who already owns animals is a good option. You can see how they care for their pets and rest assured your animals will receive good treatment. If your animals gravitate towards any of these individuals, ask them if they are willing to take the role of trustee in your pet trust.

Second, you want your trustee to have good judgment and knowledge. While caring for dogs and cats is fairly easy, it becomes more complicated with horses, birds, and reptiles. A friend who visits the barn to stroke your horses’ nose and feeds them carrots is likely not a good caretaker for your equine. However, that best friend at your boarding barn with decades of horse experience is likely very willing to care for your horse, especially if your pet trust provides financial resources.

If you do not know any people willing to take on this responsibility, local rescues and private shelters may be willing to help. The organization can act as a temporary guardian for your animal until they find a new home. During that time, the trust provides resources to assure care during that guardianship.

Can pet trusts provide for my animals if I am temporarily incapacitated?

The best way to provide for animals in temporary emergencies is through a Power of Attorney. This document can be expanded to include animal care along with other financial and household duties.

How do I start designing a pet trust?

Your first step is to collect identifying information about your pets. That includes photographs and descriptions of unique markings. Also, any breed registry certificates and DNA information should be accessible. If your pet is microchipped, include that information too.

Second, describe in detail any unique care requirements including medication or needed routines. Cats and dogs with diabetes require timely insulin shots. Besides medical information, also include a description of favorite activities. Some cats do not enjoy catnip and dogs have their favorite games too. Horses especially have preferences; if your horse likes trail rides but hates horse shows, that is a good thing for a caretaker to know.

Third, choose a trustee and caregiver. In most trusts, this is the same person. But if you have one friend who is better at managing resources while another is great at animal care, this can be two separate individuals. Choose alternates for these roles in case your first choices are unable to serve.

You will want to consider the ages of your trustees and caregivers when you choose them. If you are currently 55 and your parrot is 12, choosing a friend who is 50 is not a good long-term plan. However, if you have a 22-year-old niece who loves your parrot already, appointing her as a caregiver guarantees decades of care. Another option is to give trustees and caregivers the power to appoint successors.

Finally, choose who receives the trust assets once your last surviving animal passes on and the trust ends. Just as with any designation, this can include individuals or charitable organizations.

A pet trust provides peace of mind and good care for your beloved animals in the state of Oregon. For an estate plan consultation that includes considering your animals, contact Diane L. Gruber today.