ABA offers free legal tips

 Everyone has something worth protecting, whether it’s your mother’s wedding ring, your grandfather’s WWII medals or a life insurance policy. All the things you own – big and little – make up your estate. And no matter how large or modest it is, you can’t take it with you.

What will happen to it when you’re gone? It’s up to you to decide – but how do you start the process?
Help is on the way with free legal guidance. Grab a pen and paper and take notes as American Bar Association experts give their best tips for deciding what happens to your “stuff” when you’re gone. Log in to www.estateplanhelp.org to hear the free webinar to help get you started on the basics of estate planning.
Americans will inherit roughly $12 trillion from our frugal, Depression-era parents and grandparents over the next 25 years. This is the greatest transfer of wealth in history, according to numerous studies. Yet it is estimated that 55 percent of Americans die without a will or estate plan. It may not be a “sunny” thought, but deciding what will happen to your stuff when you die, or how decisions will be made for you if you get sick or have an accident, is smart estate planning.
“It’s human nature to avoid thinking about your own death, but you can save your family a lot of headaches – and money – by making these decisions ahead of time,” said lawyer David Dietrich, vice chair of the ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘I’ll think about it later,’ but I’ve seen firsthand how a family can be torn apart by an unexpected accident or death, and what happens to the survivors.”
During the webinar, legal experts will offer step-by-step instructions on how to get started, followed by a question-and-answer period.
The experts also will provide examples of why simply signing a will or a power of attorney with a “do-it-yourself” plan is not a good idea. For example, the following scenarios are based on real experiences:
• Divorced? Don’t want your ex to get it all? Better double-check to make sure you’ve changed the beneficiary on any insurance policies or pension survivor benefits. Even if your will says everything goes to your current spouse, a former spouse may be legally entitled to collect. A will doesn’t trump beneficiary designations on an insurance policy, pension or joint tenancies (also known as nonprobate assets).
• Want to protect your kids? You must name a trustee for your minor children. If you want money from a life insurance policy to go into a trust for minor children, the trustee must be named as beneficiary on the policy. If you want the proceeds to go to the children, a guardian of the property of the children will be appointed to receive the proceeds.
• Separated but not yet divorced? Could be trouble, depending on where you live. Most people don’t realize that state law dictates how a surviving spouse’s elective share works. In Tennessee, for instance, the surviving spouse can receive 40 percent of the estate if the marriage lasted nine years or more, even if the spouses did not live together for most of those years.
• Don’t have much money? Powers of attorney, living wills and advance health care directives are necessary even for people with no “extra” money put away.
• Have a special needs child? Parents of a special needs child must form a valid special needs trust, which will not only protect the child’s inheritance and government benefits, but also ensure that any money left in the trust upon the child’s death is eligible to be passed on to the other children in the family.
The legal expert panel includes:
• Moderator David Dietrich, a lawyer with Dietrich & Associates in Billings, Mont., which specializes in tax, real estate, agriculture, estate planning and administration law.
• Amy Morris Hess, a professor of law at University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, Tenn., where she has taught trusts and estates, taxation, estate planning and property law.
• Mark Parthemer, managing director and fiduciary counsel with Bessemer Trust, a national wealth management firm.
• Jefferey Yussman, a partner with Wyatt Tarrant & Combs law firm in Louisville, Ky., who specializes in estate planning and administration, business succession planning and charitable planning.
Listen to the webinar at your convenience. You can find the link, and other helpful information, at www.estateplanhelp.org.