One of the advantages of marriage over a cohabiting relationship is that a spouse in a marriage is a legal heir, and has a legal right in Georgia to inherit, with or without a will. The only way cohabitants can inherit in Georgia is through a will or through a living or testamentary trust.
Trusts are rights and properties held by one party for the benefit of another. There are many reasons for a cohabitant to enter into a trust agreement. These include maintaining control over assets, avoiding probate, and avoiding inheritance taxes. A testamentary trust is a trust created by a will or a living or an inter-vivos trust document. A living trust is a written agreement in which a trustee agrees to hold assets contributed by the grantor for the benefit of third parties or beneficiaries. In some states, but not all, the trustee, grantor, and initial beneficiary may all be the same person. A will or a testamentary trust becomes effective only upon the death of the testator. However, a living trust becomes effective immediately. As long as a living trust is not irrevocable, it can be amended or revoked at any time, and the grantor retains absolute control over the assets transferred to the trust, if he is the trustee. At the time of the grantor’s death, the living trust either becomes irrevocable or it terminates with the trust assets going to designated beneficiaries, or it continues to stay in existence, with the trustee continuing to hold assets for the benefit of the remaining beneficiaries. It is one way to avoid the expense of probate.
There are both disadvantages and advantages to wills and to living trusts. Some of them are as follows:
• Privacy – A will, when it is probated, becomes public knowledge, as do the assets listed under the will. A living trust, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, never becomes public; thus, neither the assets nor terms of the trust become public record.
• Probate – In order to be enforced, a will must go through a form of probate procedure in the court system for which there are fees, usually based on the size of the estate and possibly on the identification of the beneficiaries if they are minors (since guardians may have to be appointed; however, see below). Beneficiaries normally cannot receive the bulk of the assets until probate is completed, which could take a year or more. With a living trust, probate is avoided, and trust assets are distributed almost immediately by the trustee to the beneficiary.
• Complexity – A living trust agreement is more complex in that the assets, while the grantor is alive, must be transferred to the trustee and held in the name of the trust. The trustee is the one who distributes the assets and income and manages the corpus (the body) of the trust. A will, however, takes effect only upon the testator’s death, and is usually less expensive to draft and to change than a living will. However, as stated above, probate is more expensive to hold property.
Another method of estate planning for cohabitants is through joint tenancy, where title to either real or personal property is held jointly. The joint tenants own equal shares and jointly own the property. Each joint tenant may sell his or her one-half interest. However, when one dies, the remaining owner automatically takes over ownership as a right of survivorship.
Tenancy in common is a way for two or more people to hold property. Each has the right to bequeath or sell his or her share of the property to someone other than the co-owners. It is often also easier to sell an interest as a tenant in common rather than as a joint tenant. At the tenant’s death, his interest passes either through his will, through a living trust, or by intestacy.
Each of these Georgia estate planning techniques should be considered by a cohabitant, in that each has its own pros and cons and every case is different. Having no method of estate planning is a disaster for a cohabitant, because the intestacy laws of Georgia will not allow the cohabitant to receive any of the estate. Thus, it is essential for a couple living together to meet with a Georgia estate planning attorney to discuss estate planning, living wills, and durable springing powers of attorney so that they can fully understand their rights and obligations and can deal with these problems in a way that is suited for their personal needs at a time that is not pressured or emotionally chaotic.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Very frequently, we get a call from someone who is ready to make an appointment for a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, but wants to know “How Much Will “It” Cost?” “It” here refers to a will or trust or other legal planning document; i.e., “How Much Does a Will Cost” or “How Much is a Living Trust”? Let’s imagine you have that question. Here is what I would tell you.
Before we talk about fees, it’s important for you to understand how our firm is different than traditional law firms. First of all, we don’t bill anything on an hourly basis, so you never have to worry about any surprises when it comes to what something will cost. Everything is flat fee and discussed up front, so you will never get a surprise bill in the mail. With a traditional law firm, you might expect to pay $500-$3,000 for a typical set of estate planning documents. In many cases, in our experience, those estate planning documents won’t work when your family needs them because they will become stale the minute you walk out the door of your lawyers office – you’ll put the documents away and never look at them again. Your life will change, your assets will change, and the law will change, but those documents are going to be sitting there – staying the same. You are unlikely to ever hear from your lawyer again and won’t update your plan and if you do, you’ll very likely have to pay hourly to take care of any updates with uncertainty about how much that will cost on an ongoing basis. And, if your lawyer goes out of business or dies, you’ll have to start everything over with a new lawyer and pay all those initial fees again. And, this is sad to say, your assets are very unlikely to be owned in the right name at the time of your death, making all the planning you did irrelevant.
At GeorgiaFamilyLaw, we don’t believe that traditional model of estate planning really serves you and your family. Instead, we focus on developing a lifetime relationship with you, giving you affordable access to a lawyer who will help you make the right legal decisions throughout life and then being there for your family when you can’t be.
We do this in a number of ways, including throwing out the time clocks – which means everything we do is billed on a flat fee basis, agreed to in advance, so there are no surprises. It means we have a whole team in place to ensure that every part of your planning is done right, including that your assets are titled in the right name and that your planning continues to work throughout your lifetime. We do that by reviewing your planning at least every three years at no additional charge and if you want to make unlimited changes to your plan on an ongoing basis and be able to consult with us about all of your legal and financial questions that come up during life without paying hourly fees, we have a membership program you can join to ensure your planning works when your family needs it. And last, we don’t focus only on passing on your financial wealth, but we also have a unique process for capturing the assets that are most often lost when someone dies because they are intangible – the intellectual, spiritual and human assets – or who you are and what’s important to you.
All of that’s getting a little ahead of the game though because we can’t get to any of that until you complete a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment and have a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session to determine whether your family is a good fit for our services. Normally, that Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session is $750, but if you found us through this blog post on our website, we will waive that fee for you.
We only have a limited number of these free sessions we can offer each month, so if you want to have your session for no charge you should go ahead, call our Marietta estate planning lawyer’s office at 770.425.6060 and get on our calendar now.
I find as an Atlanta GA trusts and estate planning lawyer that many people don’t realize the privacy issues that will face their family should they die without a living trust. That’s simply because upon your death, everything you are leaving behind to your loved ones automatically becomes a matter of public record—even if you have a will or other estate planning documents in place!
While this may feel like a huge violation from a privacy perspective, it also presents a safety issue to those inheriting your estate. There are a lot of unscrupulous people who prey on widows and other beneficiaries and try to separate them from their inheritance.
So why does the County make this information available to the public?
The lack of privacy is understandable if you know the true purpose of probate. One of the primary purposes of probate is to make sure the creditors of the deceased person have an easy way to collect any debts they are owed from their estate. For that reason alone, the probate process must be open and public.
This information is also made public so the creditors of your beneficiaries have notice that they are inheriting an estate. Under this scenario, the creditors could bring an immediate claim against your beneficiary, which may ultimately result in your beneficiary never receiving the inheritance you wanted to leave them.
However, to be clear, I am in no way advocating that debts go unpaid. In fact, you should instruct your executor to pay your debts. But, wouldn’t you rather direct how this process goes rather than leaving it to the courts?
One way to do that while simultaneously stopping the violation of privacy and loss of control of your estate is to create a living trust.
Unlike a will, a living trust is a private document that will not become a matter of public record because it does not have to be filed with the probate court. Therefore, you can name beneficiaries and provide gifts while still attaining privacy since only the trustees and those involved in trust administration will know the contents of a living trust. This means that no creditor of yours or your beneficiaries, no disgruntled relative, no scam artist, and no nosey neighbor will ever know the details of your financial history.
Remember, there are people out there who make a living preying on young or vulnerable people that have just inherited something from an estate. They troll these public records daily looking for victims of their next heist or scam. Fortunately, with a bit of planning, you can protect your family from such privacy violations that accompany the probate process. I recommend talking to your Atlanta or Marietta trusts lawyer about living trusts and how they can help your family if something unexpectedly happens to you.
Fortunately, we’ve made that process easier than ever by making 5 free Georgia Family Treasures Planning Sessions available this month to readers of our blog. Simply call 770-425-6060 and mention this article to reserve your spot. Your family will thank you for it.
If one of your New Year’s resolutions this year includes getting your financial and legal affairs in order should something unexpectedly happen to you, I have a gift I think you’ll enjoy.
To be specific, I just put the finishing touches on a free report I wrote entitled, “What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt Your Family: 5 Easy Ways to Make Sure Your Children, Wishes and Assets Stay Protected Should Something Happen to You”.
In this report you’ll learn 5 easy ways to get your legal and financial affairs in order, just in time for the New Year. You won’t even need the help of an attorney for some of these important steps; simply follow my instructions in the guide and cross each item off of your “to-do” list as you go.
You’ll also discover:
- How to legally name guardians for your minor children in a way that will hold up in a court of law
- The difference between a will and a trust, and which tool you really need to make sure your family, wishes and assets stay protected upon your passing.
- The details about simple document you can use to give someone legal permission to act on your behalf if you were incapacitated in an accident but did not die (…and without this document, no one will be able to help you under the current HIPPA laws!)
- How to amass your “entire family wealth” and leave a true legacy to your children (hint: you don’t have to be wealthy and it’s easier than you think!)
- And so much more!
To grab a copy of this report, simply visit http://bit.ly/gNUxIJ.
I’d also like to encourage you to forward this to any of your family or friends who really need to get their affairs in order just in time for the New Year. I would especially encourage you to reach out to anyone who has minor children, owns their own home, cares for aging parents or is approaching retirement age themselves.
Again, you can get a copy of this free report now by going to http://bit.ly/dGpJM1.
All my best,
By Steve Worrall, Cobb County GA probate lawyer
If you are reading this Atlanta area probate and estate planning blog right now, chances are you concerned about what would happen to your assets, investments and total inheritance when you die. I am sure like most people, you want to leave an inheritance to your children in a way that’s safe, secure and free from the red-tape of probate.
Yet what most well-intentioned parents fail to understand is that it is the way their inheritance gets passed down to family members that can have detrimental and life-altering consequences—which are far worse than having money tied up in the Georgia probate courts.
For that reason, I want to share some of my knowledge as an Georgia probate lawyer and give you a brief overview of the 4 ways your inheritance can be passed down to your children and how you can ultimately protect your inheritance from impulse spending, divorce, bankruptcy or poor decision making with proper education and a bit of planning:
- Outright Distribution: An outright distribution is just that, mom and dad die and the children receive their inheritance outright, in one lump sum. Simple, clean, but dangerous. Statistics show that an inheritance will be gone within 18 months of a child receiving it. And it does not matter how old the child is or how much the inheritance. If a child gets divorced or goes bankrupt, the inheritance could be lost.
- Convenience Trust: With this arrangement, the inheritance is distributed to a trust, but the child can withdraw the trust assets at any time and for any reason, just by requesting it. There may be an independent trustee managing the trust, or the child may be their own trustee or co-trustee. Since no one can force the child to withdraw the income and principal from the trust, the convenience trust offers some creditor protection, and perhaps a mental barrier to withdrawing the trust’s assets, but not much else. This also can act as a separate property trust, so that the child's spouse cannot access the inheritance.
- Step-Distribution: This method is a more commonly used way of leaving money to your heirs. It’s also known as the “speed-bump” approach. With this type of distribution, the inheritance flows into a trust, usually with an independent trustee, which is managed and controlled for the child. At certain intervals in the child’s life, a portion of the trust’s principal is released in a lump sum to the child. For example, one third of the principal is paid to the child at age 30, one third at 35 and the remainder at 40. They still have access to income and principal for health, education and other guidelines you structure, but you can leave your children a powerful message with this type of trust – “don’t blow the inheritance!” The idea is that if they blow it the first time, they may not get any future distributions. This may act as an incentive to the child to manage their money well, but it still adds little asset protection, and once the principal is gone, it’s out of the bloodline and gone forever.
- Lifetime Trust: This type of trust holds and manages the child’s inheritance for the life of the child. An independent trustee is usually chosen to manage the trust and many times the child can serve as co-trustee. Principal and income may be distributed according to various guidelines and incentives that the parent provides in the trust document. These guidelines act as a spigot or faucet: adhere to the guidelines and philosophies of the trust and assets will flow; get into trouble and the trustee can turn the spigot off.
Once the child dies, any remaining assets in the trust can pass to the child’s heirs or other individuals or entities. The lifetime trust provides the most flexible vehicle for values-based legacy planning. It also provides the greatest degree of asset protection, including protections against divorce, bankruptcy and lawsuits such as malpractice or personal injury. This is by far the most popular choice of trust arrangements among my clients, as it provides the greatest amount of asset protection and guidance for beneficiaries throughout their lives.
So now that you have read the 4 most common ways to pass an inheritance on to family members, I encourage YOU today to get clear on how you would like your inheritance distributed when you die. Do you understand the potential consequences of turning your inheritance over to a child not ready for the responsibility? Are you concerned that your money or assets may one day be lost in a messy divorce or bankruptcy proceeding? Are you simply unsure of the best way to protect your money—and your children—when you die?
If so, I would like to extend the opportunity for you to schedule a Peace of Mind Planning Session ($750 value) at no-charge with our office. Here a Marietta GA probate lawyer will help you work through such hard questions and ultimately create a rock-solid plan for distributing your assets in a way that aligns with your core values, but also meets your children’s long-term financial needs.
However, we only have 8 such Sessions available each month, so call (770-425-6060) to immediately schedule an appointment with Marietta GA probate lawyer, Steve Worrall before they are all gone!