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Make Probate Easier For Your Loved Ones

Most people do not need to avoid probate. They need the right tools to make it easier. The first step to that is drafting a will and informing loved ones of its location and contents.

Even then, the challenges are only beginning. In addition to managing the paperwork and legal formalities that follow a death, your loved ones are also facing their grief. This is an overwhelming time where even a simple telephone call to a life insurance company feels like a monumental task.

Efforts made now can make this easier for your friends and family in the future. Once you finish your will, complete these five tasks to assure a more efficient probate process for your loved ones.

Keep It All Together

Once you draft a will, keep the original in a safety deposit box, a copy with your attorney, and another copy with your executor, the person named in your will to manage your estate. Let other family members or close friends know you have a will and who has copies of it.

Wills do no favors if they are kept secret. If no one knows you have a will and/or cannot find it, then your loved ones will be forced to file an intestate probate in order to transfer your assets.  An intestate probate is a probate without a will.  It is more time-consuming and more expensive than a probate with a will.  Moreover, this leaves your loved ones wondering what to do.  A will expresses your wishes and directs your loved ones what you want to become of your assets after your death.

Keep other important documents near your will as well. These may include real estate papers, car titles, stock certificates, and life insurance policies. If all these documents are together in one place, life for your grieving executor just became easier.

Make Lists Now

One of the largest tasks in probate proceedings is the inventory. This is a list of all your assets and their values. The court uses it to determine the value of your estate and the distribution of your property.

Start keeping updated lists now to make this job easier for your grieving relatives. If you have a special collection of art, jewelry or other high-value items, keep track of these items in a spreadsheet or even a notebook. List values if you have them. Your executor may have to get some items appraised, but even just a list will make the inventory step easier for your executor.

Inform Beneficiaries

If a loved one is a joint owner on a real estate deed or car title, tell them. This makes it easier for them to take possession of these items after you die and keeps the asset out of probate. The same is true for any life insurance policies. If beneficiaries know they are entitled to these funds, they may be able to collect them without the involvement of the court or your executor.

Likewise, if there are family members who are not receiving any of your property, be direct about this situation and who is affected. You may want to tell a trusted family member. Being clear about all your wishes, even those that work against family members, prevents problems after your death.

Organize Your Finances

Just as you own assets, you may also carry debt. Keep mortgage documents, credit card statements, and medical bills in an accessible place and maintain a current list. Then when you executor must send out notices to creditors, they do not have to engage in an exhaustive search to find them all.

Provide Attorney Contact Information

When you pass away and your family and friends grieve, your estate planning attorney can be a guiding voice of reason during a difficult time. It is much easier to complete a probate filing with the attorney who knows you and drafted your will then to start from scratch with a new attorney.

Your attorney’s name, address, telephone number, and email address should be in the margins of your will.  Inform your family members who you hired to handle your estate planning. Even if your attorney moves from the area or retires, having that information can still help your loved ones find someone else to represent them in the probate proceeding.

Gruber & Associates, P.C. offers estate planning and probate guidance for Oregon residents. Not only can we design an estate plan that best reflects your wishes but we can make the probate process more efficient and effective for your family. Contact our office today to schedule an estate planning or probate consultation.

Do You Have a Good Reason to Avoid Probate in Oregon?

Avoiding probate should not be your primary goal when estate planning in Oregon. For most people, probate is a quick process that allows you an appropriate vehicle for distributing assets, protecting loved ones, and honoring your charitable wishes. Trust companies convince you otherwise so you will buy their product–not because it necessarily works to your advantage.

But there are exceptions. Gruber & Associates meets a few clients who may benefit from avoiding probate and should create a trust as their main estate planning vehicle. Here are four possible reasons why clients may need to establish a trust in order to avoid probate.

Need for Continuous Asset Management

During the probate process, your assets are essentially placed on hold until the court approves their distribution. This can be troublesome if your assets generate income that may be vital to supporting your family.

If you own a business, rental properties or even investment accounts, these assets continue to generate income but that cannot be distributed unless a special motion is filed with the court or probate concludes with assets being liquidated or passed on to their new owners. In cases of incapacity, a power of attorney allows an agent to pay bills or distribute income. But once you die, that agent no longer has the authority to accomplish those tasks.

When you own multiple income-producing assets, a living trust may be your best option. It continues distributing income until it is dissolved which reduces interruption of support and hardship.

Privacy

Probate is a public process. Technically, anyone can access your court files and see your asset inventory and the value of your estate.

This creates anxiety for some people. A contentious divorce or family estrangement leads some clients to want to keep the assets of their estate private. Sometimes, the motivation is less conflict-driven. Clients may not wish to compromise their family members’ safety by making the ownership of high-value property public. There is always a risk that if it is known a family member owns an expensive car or rare work of art, they may become a target for crime.

In most cases, you do not need to keep the distribution of your assets after death private. If you are worried about social security or credit card account numbers, those are kept private anyway. However, if you believe a public probate will compromise safety or heighten tensions within your family, a trust could be a better option for you.

Taxes

When assets are placed in a trust, they technically no longer belong to you. They belong to the trust which is why they are not subject to probate proceedings.

This works well for clients whose estate is valued over $1 million. You can move assets into a trust and reduce the estate’s overall taxable value. Income and property are then distributed to your loved ones rather than used to pay a tax burden.

Cost

The cost of probate in Oregon is modest compared to some other states. Unless your estate exceeds $1 million, you are unlikely to lose a significant amount of it in administration fees or taxes.

However, if you live in Oregon and own property in other states, it is likely that you will need an ancillary probate in each of those states, as well. An Oregon probate proceeding cannot address property outside the state. If you own a hunting cabin in Alaska, for example, you must file a separate probate proceeding there.

People who own a number of out-of-state property and investments will see their costs rise with each separate probate proceeding. Placing out-of-state assets in trust or owning them jointly with a spouse or other family members may prevent this dilemma. 

Before you choose a trust company and decide to transfer all your assets into a trust, see if that is necessary for you. At Gruber & Associates, we advise on your Oregon estate planning options including those that help you avoid probate. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and see what is necessary for you.

Abilities & Limits of Advance Directives in Oregon

An advance directive is a complimentary service when you hire Gruber & Associates, P.C. in West Linn, OR for estate planning. Its scope is limited so it works best with other estate planning documents. While it definitely offers advantages and eases health care decision-making for your loved ones, an advance directive also has its limits. That emphasizes the need for a complete estate plan.

Abilities

An advance directive indicates your health care preferences if you are unable to communicate them to your doctor. It appoints a health care representative who executes these decisions, including any preferences regarding life-sustaining medical treatment.  

Apppoints an Advocate

While many people do not want to consider it, there is a possibility that you will suffer injury or illness substantial enough to leave you unable to communicate or make decisions. While healthcare providers use their best discretion, there is another possibility that their decisions will not match your preferences.

The healthcare representative acts as your voice when you cannot speak. Since most clients appoint someone in this capacity that is close to them, this individual understands your motivation and feels honor-bound to respect your wishes. Many clients choose a spouse, sibling or even a good friend to fulfill this role. If you have someone in your life you would prefer for this duty, it is a good idea to execute an advance directive.

Define Course of Health Care

Health care decisions may have religious inclinations, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and their avoidance of blood transfusions. Other times it is simply a preference for particular courses of treatment.

An advance directive allows specific instructions. You can designate specific doctors, health care facilities, and, if you are terminally ill, your choice for hospice care. There may be circumstances where you prefer to continue palliative treatment at home and avoid future hospital visits. If you have detailed preferences like this, you need an advance directive.

Limit Life-Sustaining Medical Procedures

The best-known feature of the advance directive is your decisions regarding life-sustaining medical procedures. Many clients execute one because they do not wish to be kept alive by machines. Others make different choices.

While an advance directive is sufficient for ensuring your wishes are granted, you may also sign Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment or POLST. This is an additional document provided by a doctor, clinic or hospital that remains in your file and removes any doubt of your decision. It is presented not only if you are terminally ill but sometimes before surgical procedures. Do not be surprised if one is presented to you if you are admitted to the hospital.

Limits

Advance directives define your course of health treatment but they have their limits. These are reassuring more than inconvenient, especially if you have a finished estate plan.

Indicate Burial Preferences

If you have any burial preferences, you should list them in your will. The advance directive is not an appropriate avenue for expressing this information.

Other options may include pre-planned funerals where you can confirm any religious or personal preferences. If you decide on something different, like donating your remains for study, that requires additional forms and an advance directive is not effective to assure that occurs. Many preferences require additional steps so discuss those first with your attorney before thinking one written note or document guarantees them.

Affect Insurance Coverage

There are concerns that insurance companies may require patients to sign an Advance Directive or face claim denial. This is not legal and any insurance company who insists on this should be reported to the Insurance Commission.

Signing an advance directive has no effect on insurance coverage or at least should have no effect on it. If you are not comfortable with executing an advance directive or feel pressured to do so, do not do it.

Authorize Euthanasia

There are occasional concerns that the Oregon Death with Dignity Act may authorize health care representatives to choose euthanasia over further treatment, However, the law makes that impossible.

To be eligible for death with dignity, a patient must be a resident of Oregon who is 18 years of age or older. If they are diagnosed with a terminal illness where death is imminent within six months, they must also be capable of communicating their own healthcare decisions at the time they request death with dignity. An attending physician determines whether a patient meets these criteria–not a healthcare representative.

Since the patient must choose and self-administer the euthanasia drugs, physicians cannot be involved at all except to determine if the situation is appropriate for this option. Between the mental capacity requirement and the self-administration one, there is no way that a healthcare representative can authorize this course of action–or legally compel a physician to administer the drugs.

It can be difficult to consider these worst-case scenarios, but taking the time to do so offers reassurance and peace of mind. To start designing your estate plan and long-term care decisions, contact Gruber & Associates, P.C. today to schedule an appointment.

Three No-Power-of-Attorney Horror Stories

When you visit the office of Gruber & Associates, P.C. for your estate planning appointment, we frequently suggest other documents in addition to your will or trust. One of these includes a durable power of attorney. This document appoints an agent to handle your financial or business affairs if you are incapacitated or unavailable. It becomes invalid when you die.

This is a fairly simple document that does not add much to your estate planning expenses. When you need it, it is often a dire situation which makes this an essential part of long-term care and planning. If you do not have a power of attorney when you need one, it can make things difficult for you and your family members. Here are three possible horror scenarios if you do not have a valid power of attorney.

Unmanaged Insurance Claims

A power of attorney may go into effect immediately or if you become incapacitated. Since incapacitation often leads to filing a disability insurance claim, you may need an agent to handle that process for you.

However, an insurance company is not going to let just anyone file the forms, grant permission to access your medical records or make decisions during claim processing. Your spouse is not automatically granted this privilege since the law sees married people as unique individuals, not one unit. The only way for your spouse, sibling, business associate or good friend to help you through this process is with a power of attorney. When you appoint any of these people as an agent, they only need to provide the claims adjuster with the power of attorney and that grants them the authority to manage your claim.

Otherwise, appointing an agent to act on your behalf becomes expensive and complex. You will secure disability benefits quicker if you prepare just in case of incapacitation.

Limited Access to Assets

If you do not have a joint checking account with your spouse or you have business assets that are only in your name, your family will not have access to these income sources if you are incapacitated in a hospital bed. The only way your separate assets can be used for your benefit is if you execute a power of attorney.

This can be especially necessary if your incapacitation is for the long-term or you face an uncertain prognosis. The power of attorney may grant permission to a business partner to transfer income to your family or allow your spouse to access a business account.

This not only provides income but assures other functions are carried out too–like paying bills, filling out automatic deposit forms, and managing investments. If you are single, it is unlikely you have a joint owner on your accounts. Unless you want to return from incapacitation with a defaulted mortgage and past-due bills, you want to appoint someone to manage these affairs in case you are unable to do so yourself.

Poor Asset Management

Sometimes, it is a matter of finding the best person for the job. Powers of attorney also apply if you are leaving the country for a while and need someone to manage your property in the United States. Sometimes, that can end with a bad surprise when you return home.

For example, you may allow a spendthrift relative to stay in your home while you decide to live in Italy for the next five years. It may be difficult to trust this relative to pay the mortgage on time or keep utility bills current.

However, with a power of attorney, you can appoint a responsible manager for your home and its expenses. This individual can pay the mortgage and utilities from your account, and demand reimbursement each month from your temporary resident. If they fail to pay, your agent can start eviction procedures on your behalf by hiring an attorney and making decisions throughout the case. Your interests are protected better if you go this route rather than rely on someone who may not follow through.

There are also instances where clients trust their oldest child more than their spouse to make investment and financial decisions. Single people who live estranged from their families may desire that their live-in partner or best friend handle assets in case of absence or incapacitation. Just because an individual is a joint owner or physically present does not necessarily mean your best interests motivate them. You take better control of your situation with a power of attorney.

So when we recommend a power of attorney at your estate planning appointment, do not scoff. Perhaps the circumstances requiring one will never arise. But if they do, you want to make everything as easy as possible for you and your family. Plan for contingencies and make an appointment with Gruber & Associates today to create a solid estate plan.

Do Not Use Free Will Forms in Oregon!

Oregon residents frequently search for free legal forms and that includes wills. There is no approved State of Oregon Last Will and Testament form which allows legal document companies to take advantage of this market and tempt hapless consumers into saving legal fees.

Estate planning should not be a do-it-yourself activity and free Oregon will forms are the worst way to make this attempt. Here are four reasons why you need to stop wasting time finding a free form online and instead, call an Oregon estate planning attorney.

They are unlikely to be helpful

It takes effort to find a free will form online. Legal document services like LegalZoom charge for the service as they guide you through a series of questions. This is standard in this industry and in most cases, you will pay $30 to $100 for the service.

If you come across a free form, it is either extremely basic or without guarantees of legal validity. Most have not been evaluated by an attorney and are often thrown together by lay people hoping to attract website hits.  

AllLaw offers a paid service to customize a will but also includes this free will form. You have to cut and paste the text from the window to start drafting and there is little guidance. The form contains a warning that it is not reviewed by legal counsel and exists only for educational purposes:

  

Even if your search reveals a form that appears legitimate and may even been drafted by an attorney, you still do not know for certain if it is appropriate FOR YOU. A free form is often not the solution to your estate planning issues but the beginning of new ones.

They don’t make you think

Most will forms are fill-in-the-blank projects that make the task appear easier than it is in reality. Completing will forms feels more like filling out information for a Costco membership than making serious long term plans. This underestimation of your will’s importance does not help you design a good estate plan.

Mainly, you may avoid giving your circumstances the consideration they require. When you visit an attorney’s office for estate planning, you have an opportunity to discuss your concerns, ask questions and talk about “what ifs.”  This discussion arms you with the information you need to make the decisions THAT ARE RIGHT FOR YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES.  With fill-in-the-blanks forms, your focus is on filling in the blanks–not understanding the consequences of those decisions.

For example, specific property requests may seem benign. Here is where you can bequeath everything from your collection of glass miniatures to your car:

This can have three possible effects. You can make property awards that are not enforceable, like to your minor children. This adds time to the probate process as the court attempts to create a trust or appoint a conservator to manage your children’s assets until they reach adulthood.

Also, if you award too much property to a family member on government benefits, that bequest could render them ineligible and cause hardship. There are other ways to protect vulnerable dependents that will not kill their access to vital benefit programs.

Finally, some people will feel the need to list every item of property in this section which is time-consuming and usually unnecessary. It can become confusing if any of the property is no longer in your possession when you pass away.

Even if your estate is simple, reviewing circumstances with an attorney assures you cover important aspects and create an effective estate plan with no doubt as to your intentions. You also avoid the impacts of well-intentioned but poor decisions.

They are generic

Will forms of all types are an attempt to make one size fit all. This never works with estate planning and even if your situation is typical, the form may still not be appropriate. People and their estates are diverse and an estate plan perfect for one client rarely works for anyone else.

For example, these two paragraphs will not help you if you are single and simply fill in the blanks. You may have to change spouse to “friend” or “live in partner”:

 

Additionally, will forms frequently contain provisions that may not be necessary for your situation. If you are single, have charitable aspirations, and never had children, there is no need to designate a trust for minor children (which occupies two pages of this particular will form). That is an unnecessary distraction that prevents you from addressing other matters and may lead you to overlook important aspects of your estate.

There’s no accounting for special circumstances

As indicated above, there are estate planning decisions that can lead to dire consequences. If you care for an older relative or an adult child with special needs, you must handle bequests to them VERY carefully.

For many clients, it may be their first instinct to grant a special-needs child or older relative a large amount of money. If these individuals receive disability payments, Medicare or Medicaid, that decision can cancel out their eligibility. This introduces new complications as your adult dependents attempt to secure health insurance or stretch out the payment to cover all their daily needs.

However, if you see an Oregon estate planning attorney, you can learn about your options. A trust preserves your assets for these family members and allows them to receive payouts from your estate without sacrificing benefits. When you take the do-it-yourself route with a free will form, you may not execute this plan correctly and place your family at risk.

Correct execution becomes more challenging

Your will is not complete until it is executed. This includes your initial on every page, your signature at the end, and the notarized signatures of two witnesses. That end step could be the most challenging aspect of finalizing your will.

On your own, it can take effort to assure your witnesses and notary are available at the same time. Finding witnesses can be a challenge too. It is possible to use relatives as witnesses, even if they are beneficiaries. But attorneys often do not recommend it because that leaves wills VERY vulnerable to court challenges.

Your safest witnesses are disinterested parties with no connection to your will or estate. When you go through an estate attorney, those ready-witnesses include law office staff. Also, every law office contains notaries which make it easy to finalize your will in one appointment.

These logistics are often challenging enough that probate attorneys sometimes see do-it-yourself wills without witnesses or a notary block. That renders the will invalid and you end up with an intestate estate.

Free advice is worth what you pay for and Oregon will forms are the same way! If you want to draft a will without paying excessive legal fees, contact Gruber & Associates, P.C. to schedule a consultation.