Lessons from a Pandemic: We Are Not Invincible

While it may sound obvious, we all think we are invincible at certain points. Call it youthful ignorance or burying our head in the sand or whatever excuse we may have, but we all think or act like we are invincible at some point. Frankly, it is natural to think that nothing bad could ever happen to us. Other people are mere mortals, but me, I am gonna live forever. Of course, deep down, we all know that is not true, but it is not comfortable to acknowledge that.

COVID-19 reminded us that we are mortal. That we can get sick. We can get severely sick to the point that we need someone to speak for us. And worst of all, we could die. Again, over a half million people died from this sickness that we just learned about last year. It is true that young and, presumably, healthy young people generally survive this sickness, but not everyone does. There again is that feeling that I am not going to be the one that gets sick and dies, it is going to be the other guy.

One thing that we missed out on from the pandemic is Minnesota State University, Mankato Maverick hockey. Our family is a huge supporter of the program and season ticket holders. The “other guy” syndrome that we often see is beautifully illustrated by a promotion that the program does each year. Each year they hold a cancer awareness night. As fans walk into the game, they hand out glow necklaces to everyone. You can see a picture of the arena below that holds 5,100.

Before introducing the starting lineups, all the lights are turned off and the arena is dark. The announcer comes on the loudspeaker and tells everyone to “break” the glowing part of their necklaces and hold it above their head if they have ever been afflicted with cancer. A somewhat small portion of the crowd follows the instructions and the announcer then asks anyone that has a family member that has had cancer to break their necklace and hold it above their head. A larger part of the crowd follows the instructions. Finally, the announcer instructs everyone that knows someone that has been afflicted with cancer to break their necklace and hold it above their head. Inevitably, every person in the crowd is holding a necklace above their head and the entire arena is glowing green.

So, what does this have to do with a pandemic? Well, nothing directly other than we did not have Maverick hockey this year. What it does illustrate is the life is precious. It is NOT always someone else. At some point, it is each of us or it is someone that we love. It means that planning now is important. Intentions are great, but they do not mean anything if we do not follow through and actually complete our planning.

Whether you need a simple will or you need a trust or you need a special needs trust for your children or you need a health care directive for your wishes if something happens to you, a sense of urgency is important. The last thing that any of us wants to hear in the estate planning community is that you had the best of intentions to get it done, but just did not think it could happen to you. Your loved ones will be the ones the suffer the consequences. Our goal is to take away any uncertainty of how your loved ones are taken care of or who is going to take care of them. None of us are invincible, it could be us.


Updating Your Titles, Deeds and Beneficiaries

Many times, when people think about estate planning, they think only of their will and trust. We have tried to educate people on why they need to plan for other situations as well.

Yes, your will and trust help you when you die, but what about when you are still alive and just need a little bit of help. You need to think about your health care directive and your financial power of attorney. Earlier this month, we debuted A Guide to My Life: My Advisors, Digital Assets and Documents which is a guide to help you keep track of your online life that helps your loved ones keep your affairs in order in life and death. There are many, many other facets to estate planning, but today we cover why you need to update the deeds and titles of your assets and the beneficiaries of your financial accounts. Each of those need to be covered separately.

First, let us talk about the deeds on your housing properties. Typically, clients want to avoid probate courts as much as they can so that their loved ones avoid the headache that comes along with it. The stage in life that you currently reside, and your unique situation will make a bit of difference, but as a rule of thumb a Transfer on Death Deed (TODD) is an essential part of your estate plan. For most people, their house is the most valuable asset that they possess, and it is one that many times will drive their estate into probate when they pass away.

So, what does a TODD do? A TODD simply is a type of deed that takes your house and transfers the ownership of the property to a specified person. That means you keep the ownership of the house to yourself and when you die, it goes to your children or some other person rather than a court deciding what happens during the probate process. You then file the deed with the county (usually in the land records department). When you die, your house automatically passes on to the next person with out going through the process. It really is as simple as that.

Some people may have extremely valuable vehicles or boats. You can do the same thing with those assets as well. When it comes to large assets, you can put transfer on death designations on vehicles with the DMV and on boats/yachts with the DNR. They work in the same way as a Transfer on Death Deed with your house.

The last thing we want to talk about is beneficiaries on your financial accounts. This includes everything from your life insurance to your 401(k) to your savings accounts at your bank to your checking account. You want to make sure there is a beneficiary listed. Why you may ask? It is simply to ensure your assets get transferred to the right person or entity. Again, this is a great way to avoid the probate process. Say you are 40 years old and you have $100,000 saved in an IRA, you may want to put your spouse on the account as a beneficiary. That means that there is no need to go to the probate court to decide who gets it. In most cases your spouse would gain access to it anyway if you didn’t designate the beneficiary, but it could take months or years for that to happen and the value of it would likely be substantially decreased because you would have to pay fees to courts and attorneys. In another scenario you may set up a trust for your kids if something happens. If the beneficiary does not get labeled correctly, your accounts again go through probate and your children will not be taken care of the way you want.

The message is simply this, the little things make a difference. The cost is either extraordinarily little or nothing to do these things, but not completing them can be extremely costly and time consuming.


Protecting Your Digital Assets

Earlier this year, the app developer, NordPass, conducted a survey around online passwords. They found that the average person keeps between 70 to 80 passwords. They must memorize, write down, reset that many passwords just to function in their life online. You may ask, “why is an estate planning law firm talking about passwords?” Honestly, it is a great question. The answer to that is a relatively new term called “Digital Assets”.

Normally when we talk about assets, we only think about physical items or financial accounts. In today’s world, everything seems to be shifting online. We do not get bills in the mail; we get them automatically taken out of our accounts and never see a bill. You can always look up the bill on your online account…which leads us back to your passwords. Nearly every bank and financial company in existence provide you with an online account to access your funds…which leads us back to your passwords. Maybe you were fortunate enough to invest in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. That is not physical, you must purchase it through an online account…which leads us back to your passwords. Many people are forgoing physical pictures and just saving them online in their own account…which leads us back to your passwords.

So, what does this mean? It means that we need to start thinking about our passwords and our online accounts as assets. They are digital assets and they need to be protected like any other asset. This is a concept called Digital Asset Management. There are services that are out there like NordPass that sell their app to help you do this, but it does not need to be that intricate. It can be as simple as writing down all your passwords. In fact, we have created a document that you can download and fill out. Of course, we have added a few other helpful pieces of information like your closest advisors, your account information, and where you keep your physical documents.

We call the document A Guide to My Life: My Advisors, Digital Assets and Documents. As we tell clients, you want to leave a way for someone to step into your shoes and take care of your life if you need help. That could mean that you are stuck in the hospital from COVID-19 for 3 weeks and need to focus on recovering. Even worse, if you die, you want to make things as easy as possible for your loved ones. Having all your affairs in one place is extremely important, especially as our lives become more and more digital. Again, you are collecting digital assets and that is great because it makes your life easier, but it also makes it more difficult for your loved ones to know where everything is kept.

For this document, we suggest printing it out and keeping it in a safe place. We understand that it would be easier to make it a fillable document that you can save on your computer. Frankly, we advise against that for 2 reasons. One, if you have it saved on your computer, someone is going to have to be able to access your computer, which can be difficult if it is password protected itself, and if they do get access, they need to know what to look for and where it is. Secondly, if it is on your computer, it could theoretically be hacked into. If it is hacked, again, your entire life is on there and people you do not want to have access to it will have access to it. Instead, we suggest printing it out, filling it out with a pen or pencil, and then keeping it in a drawer in your desk or somewhere else that your loved ones will look (or that you’ve told them about).

Even if you decide to use some other form of tacking your digital assets and other important information, we still feel it is important and recommend it to all of our clients. Communication is key with your loved ones and digital asset management is just one more aspect of estate planning that can make life, and death, easier for your loved ones.


Power of Attorney

In our last blog, we talked about the importance of a health care directive in the context of the COVID-19 world that we are living in. Additionally, we want to talk about another part of your estate plan, the financial power of attorney. We talk about these two documents together because they are useful while you are still living, opposed to your will and/or trust which are useful after you pass away.

To be sure, COVID has made planning more prevalent for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that when the virus is gone, we should forget about it. COVID is top of mind for many of us, but tragedy can strike at any moment. You could be in a car accident or have a heart attack or get struck by lightning and be stuck in the hospital for months. Frankly, the cause is irrelevant. What matters is that you have planned beforehand, so that your loved ones can take care of your matters while you aren’t able to take care of them.

The financial power of attorney allows someone, called the “attorney-in-fact”, to speak and act on your behalf. Imagine you are in a car accident that leaves you with severe injuries and lands you in the intensive care unit. Unfortunately, the companies that you do business with won’t cease their operations. If you owe them money, they are still going to ask for it. Your mortgage won’t go away. Your electric bill will keep coming. For that matter, Netflix will continue to take money out of your account. What the power of attorney allows is for someone else to be able to keep paying the bill if you want or shut off the account if it is not needed.

Something that may be a bit more important than Netflix or your cable is that your attorney-in-fact can work with your insurance companies on the claim on your car. Or they can work with your disability insurance company to make sure that money continues to get paid to you. The goal is for the attorney-in-fact to keep your life moving so that when you get out of the hospital, you can go back to life and not have to dig out of past due bills or spend time where to start financially.

The reality is that tragedy does strike people. Some of us will get hit harder than others. Some of us will need to leave a roadmap for our loved ones on how you want your affairs handled if you are incapacitated. We always recommend that you plan to make sure that your wishes are considered. We don’t want people guessing what we might want or doing what they think is best for us. Their intentions are good, but what you want is what matters. Financially, a power of attorney is how you explain what it is that you want.


Do I Need A Health Care Directive?

The last couple of months have been a wake up call for people in being prepared for the unexpected. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. Regardless of your personal opinion of whether the public reaction to the virus was right, wrong or somewhere in between, it is undeniable that we have all been significantly affected by the virus. Sports events were cancelled, restaurants were closed, no one was able to get hair cuts and, of all things, many people weren’t able buy toilet paper. Varying levels of panic set in for people.

One thing that we have been very consistent in repeating over and over is the need to plan to make sure you and your loved ones are taken care of. One of the things that EVERYONE should be considering is their health care directive. Look, not all of us are going to die from COVID. Not all of us are going to be in the hospital if we get COVID. Many of us won’t even know we have COVID if we contract it. Unfortunately, some people will have to worry about those fears. The question that we should all ask ourselves is “why risk it?”

Maybe you haven’t been directly touched by someone that contracted COVID and maybe you won’t be. The sad reality to life, though, is that everyone is mortal. At some point we all are going to get sick, be in an accident, or have some other health issue. Many of us are going to need someone to make decisions for us because we aren’t able to speak for ourselves. COVID is just another real life example of what needs to be done if we get sick and need our loved ones to help us.

Kiecker Law Video Series Ep. 6 – Health Care Directives and Power of Attorney

The question becomes what do we do to help ourselves and our family. One of the best places to start is developing and writing a health care directive. A health care directive is simply a written directive putting someone (called your “agent”) in charge of your health care decisions if you are not able to do it yourself. The document gives your agent a guideline of what you want done for you medically. For example, if you are in the ICU in an induced coma, your agent will be able to tell the doctors how they should treat you based upon the guide that you wrote out for you. In essence, you are making the decision for your health care through this document and your agent even though you can’t speak for yourself.

You may ask why this is important. Well, unfortunately, our family members don’t always agree on what should happen. They may disagree, drag out the process, and cause you to suffer. They certainly don’t do it because they hate you or want to make you suffer, but because everyone thinks they know what’s best. That’s human nature. Everyone wants to do the right thing, but everyone has a different idea on what the “right thing” is.

We aren’t trying to scare people. That’s not how Kiecker Law works. Unfortunately, health issues are naturally scary. COVID is just a reminder of how fleeting life can be. A health care directive is a very valuable part of an estate plan. It works along with your will, trust, power of attorney and financial plan. That’s why our consistent recommendation is to plan. Don’t just plan for what you expect to happen. Also plan for what you don’t expect to happen.

kiecker law what happens to my kids of i die

What Happens to My Kids If I Die?

In the past we’ve quoted a survey from Caring.com. Each year they do a survey gauging how many people complete their will. Frankly, the results are staggering to us. This month we’re going to be focusing on younger families, and more specifically what happens to kids when their parents die. Looking at the 2020 survey that Caring.com did, only 27.2% of people they surveyed between the age of 24-54 have a will (and it’s even less in the 18-23-year-old group). This is the chosen age group as this is the group that is typically going to have minor kids. We can assume those statistics are likely the same whether you have kids or don’t. That means almost 75% of people are going to leave it up to the courts to decide what happens to kids. The question we have is, is that really what you want, or do you want to decide what’s best for your kids?

Later this month, we will tackle what happens if you don’t have a will, but first let’s talk about what your will can and should do for you in deciding your children’s future if you’re no longer here to care for them. The first thing you will want to do is determine who the guardian will be for your kids. That’s probably self-explanatory, but that just means, who are your kids going to live with and who is going to care for their physical well-being. This is probably a question that you want to consider for more than just a couple of seconds. Many times, people will want to name their parents (i.e. the grandparents) as the guardians. At first blush, that may seem to be a good choice, but you will also want to consider whether your parents WANT to have a 2,5,8, or 10-year-old living in their house full-time? Or for that matter are your parents ABLE to care for a child full-time? Grandparents love to have their grandkids for an evening or even a couple of days, but could they handle having kids on a full-time basis?

Another thing to keep in mind is the style of parenting that you have versus what a potential guardian has. You want to make sure that your kids will be raised in a way that you are comfortable with. If you are strict with your kids, you likely want someone that is also going to have rules. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, remember this decision is about your kids. It’s not about the feelings of your parents, siblings or in-laws. It’s about your kids and what’s best for them. Many times, people feel an obligation to “keep things equal”. It’s not about keeping things equal. Your kids and how well they are taken care of is the only thing that matters.

The other part to consider is the financial side of things. You may be comfortable with the person that you name as guardian handling all the money, but you may not. If, for example, you name your sister as the guardian because she is such a good caregiver for her own kids, but you wonder if the money you leave for your kids will be spent wisely, you can name another person as a trustee. There could be a lot of money that is left to your kids in the form of proceeds from your house, life insurance or retirement accounts. You want that money used to care for your kids, not for frivolous expenditures that benefit your sister or her kids. If you want to have a fail safe in there so there isn’t even that temptation, you can name a trustee.

So, what does a trustee do? Essentially, your will sets up a trust for your minor children in which they get all the money that is left to them at a certain age (maybe 18, 21, 25 or any other random age you decide makes sense). In the meantime, your kids will need money for the every day things that they encounter such clothes, sports, food, school trips, or any other number of everyday necessities. The trustee would work along with the guardian to make sure that your kids’ money is being spent wisely. In other words, your sister that is the guardian would need to check in with the trustee before they can spend the money. It’s the best of both worlds. Someone that is going to be a good caretaker for your kids, and you can be sure that you have someone that is good with money to make sure your kids are financially cared for. 

Parents do everything they can to care for their kids physically and financially.  There is no reason that should stop just because the parents have passed away. A will is the legal structure of a plan that goes beyond your life.

kiecker law what happens if I don't have a will

What Happens If I Don’t Have A Will?

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Posted by Kiecker Law on Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What Happens If I Don’t Have A Will?

Over the past month or so, we’ve talked about what a will is, what a will does to protect your stuff, and what your will does to take care of your kids. In February, we even talked about going through the probate process. Now, we’re going to take it one step further. We’re going to talk about what results when you don’t have a will and you need to go through the probate process. 

The first thing that happens when you don’t have a will is that you end up in a lengthy probate process. This probate process will be expensive, and it will be painful for your family. A large sum of money will be eaten up by attorney and court fees and not be given to the heirs that you want. Once you get past the fees taken out of your estate, the courts will use the Table of Consanguinity (pictured) to determine who gets what in terms of your stuff. You won’t get to decide who gets it and it could be that someone inherits your hard earned money that you don’t want to. It’s all based upon a table that was developed in the 13th century.

That charity or your church that you wanted to receive a large donation…that doesn’t matter. They won’t get it. That nephew you wanted to support because he helped you out…he won’t necessarily get it because he isn’t named specifically. The court will decide who gets what.

For those of you with minor children, the more important question is what happens to those children. This is where the chaos begins. At least with your stuff, there is a standardized process to follow. When it comes to who takes care of your kids, there is nothing. The courts and other governmental agencies decide what happens with your kids. They will take a look at your family’s situation decide what they think is best. Of course, they will take your family’s opinion into account, but when all is said and done, the court decides the future of your kids.

Unfortunately, what often times happens is that differing sides of the family have different ideas on what should happen. The husband’s parents may think the kids should come live with them and the wife’s sister may think that she should care for the kids or some other scenario like this. This often leads to large arguments between families and certainly leads to negative effects on the kids. Yes, everyone loves the kids, but the kids are the ones that are caught in the middle. Depending on how old your kids are, they are going to be caught in the middle of it at least until they are 18-years-old. 

In these situations, no one tries to put the kids in the middle, it just ends up happening as everyone thinks they know best. It’s not intentional by any means, but it’s what happens all too often. This worst-case scenario is why we suggest that everyone makes sure they complete their estate planning. It’s not fun, and not necessarily an easy process, but it’s worth it when your family needs it.

Kiecker Law Last Will and Testement

What Happens To My Stuff?

One of the two main functions of your will is to determine who gets your stuff. Now, when we say stuff that means everything from your house to your car to your business to your investments and all the way down to the $2 knick knacks you have sitting on that shelf on the wall. Some of these things will have a high value and some of them are worth mere pennies. Some of them have tons of sentimental value and some of them don’t. Your will decides how to split them up. As an aside, many of these larger items in terms of monetary value can be taken care of with the appropriate deeds and beneficiaries, but anything that is not covered by a deed or beneficiary will be taken care of in your will.

Within your will you can decide how your stuff gets split. Some people may say that they just want their possessions to be split evenly between their kids. Alternatively, you may want to treat your kids differently. Maybe one of them helped you much more than the others and you want to financially reward them. Your will is the place to do that. If you want your church or a charity to share in your wealth, you would name them in your will. 

What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

Now, you may say that you just don’t care how your stuff gets split up. Honestly, your kids or heirs may not care either. Unfortunately, that’s not generally what happens. What seems to happen more often than any of us would like to admit is it starts family fights. When there is a fight, it generally doesn’t end well. You see, a fight needs to be settled by someone (ie a judge in a courtroom) and you also need to have someone fight along with you (an attorney). Both of cost time and money. All that wealth that you worked so hard to build up ends up in the hands of people other than those that you want. Those arguments may be avoided by properly writing your will within your estate plan. Yes, hiring an attorney to write your will costs money, but we can assure you that the cost for a will is less than the cost to fight over it!

So What Happens to My Stuff When I Die?

So, what goes into writing your will so that the right people get your stuff? Frankly, writing it is the easy part. Deciding the best course of action through thoughtful decision-making is the hard part. If you’re giving your wealth to your adult children, you likely know their personalities better than anyone else. It’s your responsibility to decide whether they are able to handle receiving a large sum of money or if it will be spent in ways that you don’t approve of. You can decide that they get their payout at a certain age or if they get it right away. 

When you decide to write your will, this is the area that you will spend the most time on. It’s important to not only write your will, but to also do it correctly. The worst thing that you can do is not put thought into it and cause more problems that you solved. We can’t stress enough that working with an attorney (even if it’s not us) is essential. When you do, you have a resource that can draw on the knowledge of what other people have done and what tends to work the best.

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Contact Kiecker Law to get started on your estate succession plan today.


What Does a Will Really Do?

What is a will and what does it do? It sounds like such a simple question. It should be, but the details often get lost in emotional discussions such as estate planning. As a law firm, we sometimes forget that what is an everyday discussion for us and that we take for granted is not a normal thing for others to talk about. Whether you haven’t every talked about your will or you have done all of your estate planning, reviewing what a will is and what it does is a good idea.

What is a Will?

To put it plainly, a will is a legal document that answers two main questions:

  1. What happens to your stuff?
  2. What happens to your kids when you aren’t there to protect them?

Like mentioned above, we sometimes take these conversations for granted, but it can be a difficult conversation.  Not only do you have to ask yourself difficult questions that you may not know the answer to, but you have to admit your own mortality. Needless to say, that’s not fun. In fact, it can be downright scary. We don’t mean to give any more excuses to put off your estate planning any longer, but we find that there is no use sugar coating it to make our clients artificially feel better. In fact, you probably should feel a bit uncomfortable in making decisions that are so consequential to the people you most love. They are difficult, but important conversations and the worst thing that we and you can do is pretend that they aren’t. It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to even be a little intimidated. That’s where your trusted advisors come in.

How to Write a Legal Will

The right attorney will guide you through that process. Like we mentioned before, we have these conversations on a daily basis. As a client, you can and should take advantage of that. Every person’s situation is different, but there are very few types of situations that your attorney hasn’t seen. You have the ability to use that knowledge and experience to your advantage. That is why you want to be comfortable with the attorney you choose to work with. We would love to say that Kiecker Law is the best firm for everyone (and, in our minds, we are), but even if we aren’t we want you to have comfort in knowing that your wishes are going to be honored.

Writing a Last Will and Testement

So, in a very brief way, we answered the question. What is a will and what does it do? Yes, it’s a legal document and decides where your stuff goes and what happens with your kids. We just talked a little bit of the process of what it takes to write a will, but in the next couple of months we will talk more specifically about the questions a will answers. We’ll talk about how we decide who gets your stuff and some things you might want to take into consideration. We’ll talk about what happens to your kids (if they are minors) and some things you want to keep in mind while making that decision. And we’ll talk about what happens if you don’t write a will. Throughout it all, we’ll give you a few thoughts on how we do things and some things that you might keep in mind regardless of what attorney you work with.

probate lawyer

What Is Probate? Part 2: Good Probate

In our last blog we talked about “THE BAD PROBATE”. This time we want to shift gears and look at “THE GOOD PROBATE”. Again, we’re not here to pull the wool over your eyes. There is no such thing as a fun probate process. There are just really painful ones and less painful ones. In fact, if done correctly, your estate won’t even need to go through probate. The correct planning and documents will transfer ownership of your possessions without any court proceedings at all.

The less painful methods have all your instructions laid out about what you want done in your estate plan. It lets your loved ones know who should get what. It lets them get more of what you have built up. And it helps them avoid court rooms. So, you may ask, what does your estate plan include and how does it accomplish these things?

Wills, Trusts, and Deeds

We talk about a will and a trust. Your will guides your executor (the person you want to handle it) to know who should get what. Don’t get us wrong, the government does have a plan set up for you, but you must go to court to get everything approved and that costs money. If you have a will, your plans are already known so a judge doesn’t have to decide whether it is fair or not. It doesn’t matter whether it’s fair, what you want to happen is the only thing that matters. You get to decide who gets what and when they get it (specifically if you have children).

In certain scenarios, you may want to have a trust. Some scenarios that could drive you needing this are the size of your estate, whether you have a special needs child or if you want to gift a sum of money to a charity in a specific fashion among other things. If privacy is important to you, a trust may keep what’s happening within your estate private so only your family (and a few select court officials) know what is happening with your affairs.

Probate and Estate Planning

As we always say, a good estate plan also includes a financial power of attorney and a health care directive. In terms of worrying about a probate, neither of these documents will have an effect, but we feel it would not be responsible for us to leave them out when discussing estate plans. They are useful tools that should be considered.

Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using the proper deeds for your real estate. A fantastic tool that you can use within real estate is a Transfer on Death Deed, or a TODD. What this type of deed will do is automatically transfer your house or any other land to the correct person or people when you pass away. Again, you don’t need to worry about going to a probate court for them to decide that what happens. It’s already known by using this document. It’s very helpful and it’s certainly less expensive than going through the probate process.

Should I Consult a Probate Lawyer?

Something that isn’t often spoken about is making sure the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance are properly listed. Often times, people just put a name down. In all actuality, they should be working in conjunction with their will and/or trust. The language to use is specific to you and can also save a lot of headache.

Essentially, there are a lot of tools out there to help you pass along your possessions without having to deplete the value for your loved ones. We strongly encourage everyone to go through the process of planning and reviewing their planning if you have already completed it. A little bit of pain for you now will prevent a lot of pain for your loved ones later.

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