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Make a Resolution to Complete Estate and Funeral Planning
Options for Financing Funerals
Questions About Estate Planning
Tips on Wills

MAKE A RESOLUTION TO COMPLETE ESTATE & FUNERAL PLANNING

While your friends resolve to make 2003 the year they finally lose weight, get fit and kick those unhealthy habits, why not do yourself and your loved ones a favor and complete your estate and funeral planning? It's certainly easier than dropping those last 10 pounds, and making your wishes known now will give you and your family peace of mind.

A nation faces the inevitable
Estate and funeral planning used to be dreaded tasks many of us knew we needed to do but never quite got around to. The Sept. 11 tragedy has jolted our collective procrastination. Lawyers around the country are reporting a rise in will requests and their clients' urgency to complete them. They're noticing younger clients from all walks of life. The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and other publications have reported the trend.

Why plan ahead?

Estate planning can:

  • save your family financial and emotional strain.
  • designate a personal guardian for minor children.
  • provide for children with special needs.
  • reserve funds for college.
  • preserve a family business.
  • ensure that money, valuables and family heirlooms go to the people you want to have them.
  • and much more, depending on the plan you choose.


Funeral planning can:

  • ensure your wishes for your funeral or memorial service, burial and other details are carried out.
  • save your family from having to make difficult decisions in their time of grief.
  • prevent family squabbles and speculation about your wishes.
  • pay for funeral services in advance.


Planning your estate

Making your wishes known doesn't necessarily have to be complicated or expensive. Most people are familiar with wills. You can type one up yourself or buy a kit, but if you have children or a lot of assets, financial planners usually recommend consulting an attorney. If your estate is simple and you decide to do it yourself, know that most states require that wills be typewritten, name an executor and be signed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries.

Keep in mind that wills, even those prepared by attorneys, go through court (probate). Probate can be time consuming, stressful for your family and costly to your estate. Consider consulting an estate planner about alternatives to wills. Some options avoid probate and certain taxes.

Wills only go into effect upon your death, so they're no help if you become incapacitated. If that happens, your case will go through living probate and the court will appoint someone to handle your affairs. If you die without a will (intestate), the state will decide who gets your money, your valuables, even your children.

Planning your own funeral
Funeral or memorial service? Burial or cremation? Not sure what you want? Then imagine how your family will feel when they're forced to make those decisions when you die. Save them the added turmoil, potential disagreements and second-guessing. Make those decisions now and let them know what you want. It can be as easy as typing up your wishes and giving it to a trusted family member, friend or attorney, though we invite you to contact our funeral home to understand all of the options available to you and your family.

Are preneed plans safe?
The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has issued consumer protection guidelines for preneed contracts, consumer tips on prepaying your funeral and a consumer bill of rights. You may want to review them at www.nfda.org before you sign on the dotted line. Our funeral home abides by the guidelines set forth by the NFDA.

You might also consider involving your family or loved ones in the preparation of your funeral arrangements. After all, the funeral service is really for the living. Consult with family about what type of arrangements they would like to remember you. For example, you may desire a direct cremation, but your spouse may prefer going through a more traditional funeral program. There are many choices to accommodate both desires. Contact us to help you with these choices when pre-planning.

Resources:
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
National Funeral Directors Association: (800) 228-6332 or (262) 789-1880.
The Consumer Federation of America

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OPTIONS FOR FINANCING FUNERALS

A funeral is an essential expenditure, and a little planning will eliminate the uncertainty of costs and payment. If you don't plan for funeral expenses, you run the risk of your family having to ask friends and relatives to share an unexpected financial burden, which can put everyone in an embarrassing and uncomfortable position. And if you borrow money, it has to be repaid.

Here are some options for financing funerals.

Pre-Need Insurance
Preneed plans are designed to cover the expenses associated with your death and funeral. Preneed insurance companies such as Homesteaders Life and Fortis Family offer several payment options to give you flexibility.

Annuities
Generally, annuities allow for the money you pay to be invested. Interest is earned which will, over time, increase the amount of money available to pay for your funeral.

Life Insurance
A traditional life insurance policy can meet several needs--pay off loans, fund education costs, and provide for living expenses, as well as funeral expenses.

Bank or Funeral Trust
A funeral trust is similar to a savings plan. The earnings on funeral bank trust funds are taxed every year, and paid either by the family or by the trust itself.

Savings Account
Beware with this strategy. A long illness can easily deplete short-term savings, while taxes and early withdrawal penalties can reduce long-term savings.

For more information on funeral pre-planning and pre-funding, contact us.


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QUESTIONS ABOUT ESTATE PLANNING

1. Why do I need an estate plan?
Most of us spend a considerable amount of time and energy in our lives accumulating wealth. As we do this, there also comes a time to preserve wealth both for our enjoyment and for future generations. A solid, effective estate plan ensures that your hard-earned wealth will pass intact to those you intend to be your beneficiaries, instead of being siphoned off to government processes and bureaucrats.

2. If I don't create an estate plan, won't the government provide one for me?
YES. But your family may not like it. The government's estate plan is called "Intestate Probate" and guarantees government interference in the disposition of your estate. Documents must be filed and approval must be received from a court to pay your bills, pay your spouse an allowance, and account for your property and it all takes place in the public's view. If you fail to plan your estate, you lose the opportunity to protect your family from an impersonal, complex governmental process that is a burden at best and can be a nightmare.

Then there is the matter of the federal government's death taxes. There is much you can do in planning your estate that will reduce and even eliminate death taxes, but you don't suppose the government's estate plan is designed to save your estate from taxes, do you? While some estate planners favor wills and others prefer a Living Trust as the Estate Plan of Choice, all estate planners agree that dying without an estate plan should be avoided at all costs.

3. What's the difference between having a will and a Living Trust?
A will is a legal document that describes how you want your assets distributed at death. The actual distribution, however, is controlled by a legal process called probate, which is Latin for "prove the will." Upon your death, the will becomes a public document available for inspection by all comers. And, once your will enters the probate process, it's no longer controlled by your family, but by the court and probate attorneys.

Probate can be cumbersome, time-consuming, expensive, and an emotional trauma in a family's time of grief and vulnerability. Con artists and others with less than pure financial motives have been known to use their knowledge about the contents of a will to prey on survivors.

A Living Trust avoids probate because your property is owned by the trust, so technically there's nothing for the probate courts to administer. Whomever you name as your "successor trustee" gains control of your assets and distributes them exactly according to your instructions.

There is one other crucial difference. A will doesn't take effect until you die, and is therefore no help to you with lifetime planning, an increasingly important consideration now that Americans are living longer. A Living Trust can help you preserve and increase your estate while you're alive, and offers protection should you become mentally disabled.

4. The possibility of a disabling injury or illness scares me. What would happen if I were mentally disabled and had no estate plan or just a will?
Unfortunately, you would be subject to "living probate," also known as a conservatorship or guardianship proceeding. If you become mentally disabled before you die, the probate court will appoint someone to take control of your assets and personal affairs. These "court-appointed agents" must file a strict accounting of your finances with the court. The process is often expensive, time-consuming and humiliating.

5. If I set up a Living Trust, can I be my own trustee?
YES. In fact, most Living Trusts have the people who created them acting as their own trustees. If you are married, you and your spouse can act as co-trustees. And you will have absolute and complete control over all of the assets in your trust. In the event of a mentally disabling condition, your hand-picked successor trustee assumes control over your affairs, not the court's appointee.

6. Will a Living Trust avoid income taxes?
NO. The purpose of creating a Living Trust is to avoid living probate, death probate, and reduce or even eliminate federal estate taxes. It's not a vehicle for reducing income taxes. In fact, if you're the trustee of your Living Trust, you will file your income tax returns exactly as you filed them before the trust existed. There are no new returns to file and no new liabilities are created.

7. Can I transfer real estate into a Living Trust?
YES. In fact, all real estate should be transferred into your Living Trust. Otherwise, upon your death, depending upon how you hold title, there will be a death probate in every state in which you hold real property. When your real property is owned by your Living Trust, there is no probate anywhere.

8. Is the Living Trust some kind of loophole the government will eventually close down?
NO. The Living Trust has been authorized by the law for centuries. The government really has no interest in making you or your family go through a probate that will only further clog up the legal system. A Living Trust avoids probate so that your estate is settled exactly according to your wishes.

9. Isn't a Living Trust only for the rich?
NO. A Living Trust can help anyone protect his or her family from unnecessary probate fees, attorney's fees, court costs and federal estate taxes. In fact, if your estate is greater than $100,000, you'll find a Living Trust offers substantial benefits for you and your family.

10. Can any attorney create a Living Trust?
NO. You should choose an attorney whose practice is focused on estate planning. Members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys receive continuing legal education on the latest changes in any law affecting estate planning, allowing them to provide you with the highest quality estate planning service anywhere.

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TIPS ON WILLS

Have a will drawn up by an attorney. Leave one copy with him or her and one with a trusted friend or family member (e.g., the principal beneficiary, your spouse, your child, etc.)

One thing you should not do is put your will in a bank vault or safe deposit box. Keep your will and other important papers in another safe place. Safe deposit boxes are often sealed for a period of time at the owner's death.

Make sure your insurance coverage is up to date. Major changes in life circumstances such as marriage, the birth or adoption of a child, divorce, or retirement can change your insurance needs.

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