On the Internet: Estate Planning
by CI Staff
For estates large and small, some estate planning is necessary to confront the issues of property distribution and taxes after death. Timely estate planning will help you avoid dying “intestate”—passing away without a will or trust to provide direction for distributing estate assets. Dying intestate poses risks from creditors, lawyers, death taxes, and probate. A proper estate plan can mitigate the problems of dividing up assets following a death.
Depending on the make-up of an estate plan, there are a variety of issues that should be addressed. The following sites provide guidance on joint tenancy ownership, beneficiary arrangements, incapacitation issues, and protecting estates from divorce, lawsuits, and judgments.
Other estate planning decisions include: selecting a will or a trust (depending on the size of one’s estate) and how to disseminate one’s assets while reducing tax consequences.
National Association of Financial & Estate Planning
The National Association of Financial & Estate Planning (NAFEP) is a for-profit company providing estate planning information and training for accountants, lawyers, and estate planners.
The site provides basic information and is good place to start for those interested in learning basic terminology and formulating questions for an estate planner. Various estate planning programs are available for a fee.
An asset protection section discusses threats that lawsuits and other legal difficulties may pose to your assets. Capital gains taxes are also addressed in a separate section—how they are related to AGI (adjusted gross income) and their effect on itemized deductions. Other areas cover planning under the 2001 Tax Act, setting up a charitable foundation, and identifying trust scams. Users can elect to have a NAFEP associate contact them to answer questions or download information on estate planning in Adobe Acrobat format.
Cornell Legal Information Institute
Cornell Law School provides a few brief descriptions of estate planning, gift giving, and trusts. The key feature of this Web site for our purposes here is the set of links to actual estate planning laws. Corresponding tax laws are explained, which address tax credits for death and gifts, gross estate and taxable estates, and property transfers. Other links on the site include the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the National Association of Financial and Estate Planning.
Nolo—Law for All
Nolo is a Web site geared toward helping laymen engaged in a legal matter to understand the law. Nolo publishes a series of books and on its Web site includes articles on estate planning in a Q&A format.
The wills and estate planning section offers a wealth of information. Visitors can study estate planning basics, wills, probate, living trusts, estate and gift taxes, and more.
The basic estate planning section tackles many issues, such as how to make sure that a pet is taken care of in the event of a sudden death or accident; how to handle property deeds when moving in with a family member; and how to sign a check when a power of attorney is involved.
The will section focuses on such problems as contesting a parent’s will and protecting an inheritance from foreclosure. Advice for those who feel they own too little for a will points out that even if an individual doesn’t have much material wealth, there are still personal effects that one may want distributed to certain individuals. Also, even a small checking or savings account could hold value.
Other topics covered include life insurance and power of attorney. A law dictionary uses plain English to define relevant terms. Recent state law changes with respect to estate planning are also posted.
Nolo offers a software program geared toward the do-it-yourselfers for will making called Quicken Will Maker Plus. The program provides step-by-step procedures and reflects the estate planning rules of all 50 states. The Will Maker helps the user to create documents for a will, living trust, financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and more. Quicken WillMaker Plus 2004 retails for $79.99.
Michael T. Palermo—Crash Course in Wills & Trusts
Michael T. Palermo, who owns and maintains the site, holds a law degree and is a certified financial planner (CFP). The material on the site was originally created for use in a local community college adult education class and references many frequent questions and responses. The responses are given in plain language in an easy-to-understand manner. The main focus of the site may be estate planning, but the site goes further into issues of planning for income tax, estate tax, disposition of property outside of the probate process, life insurance, power of attorney, advanced medical directives (living wills), and long-term care.
The first section addresses the question of having or not having a will after death. Various misconceptions are clarified along with what really should be done (legally) and why. Also, statements are highlighted for very important tips.
The probate section provides useful information on a topic that may be foreign to many. Visitors can study the three steps of probate. The first step involves collecting, inventorying, and appraising the estate property. Next, paying taxes and working with creditors is covered. Finally, the passing of title to the intended beneficiaries is explained. The duties of an executor and how to select one is also included. The section on trusts covers the basics of a trust and its functions. Information is presented on simple trusts and living wills. Also, a compare and contrast section is devoted to the difference between a living will and a trust.
The site includes a search engine. Michael T. Palermo also provides an E-mail address for questions and comments.
Your WebWill was created by W. Kendall Brown, a lawyer specializing in estate planning. Your WebWill provides the opportunity to create four customized documents for estate planning: a will, living will, financial power of attorney, and medical power of attorney. The service provides a free mailing kit that contains some sample wills and worksheets to help develop a will. In order to create a will, the site asks a series of on-line questions. Users can then print document pages to review and sign them. The creator of the will has up to 30 days to make changes free of charge. The process takes approximately 15-30 minutes to complete. The charge for the service is $99 for a single individual or $149 for couples. After 30 days, revisions cost $69 for an individual and $99 for couples.