November 07, 2018
Different Levels of Estate Planning | Berry’s Bites
Certified Elder Law Attorney, Christopher J. Berry, Esq., CELA reviews how many living trusts are oversold by average estate planning lawyers. There are different levels of knowledge and different levels of estate planning. Not all living trusts are created equal. It is important to sit down with someone who focuses on what your concerns are and is not a generalist.
Hi there. On this episode of Berry’s Bites we’re going to talk about different levels of estate planning. So there’s a lot of attorneys out there that do just basic trusts with the idea of avoiding probate. So a living trust is great, it’s a great tool to avoid probate, but what I found is that there is a lot of people that are sold living trusts that really don’t need them, because if your only goal is to avoid probate, you don’t always need a trust to do that.
Now, if you have young children, maybe under the age of 25 or, like my children, eight and five … Well, I don’t want a five and eight-year-old inheriting property outright, inheriting money outright, because they’re spend it all on LEGOs, which … That would be a bad idea. So in that situation, obviously, a living trust would make a lot of sense, because we’d appoint someone else to manage that money for them. But let’s say you have adult-age children, and you’re comfortable with them receiving the money outright, then a living trust based plan, where you just give it to them outright … We might not need that, because we could just avoid probate with beneficiary designations, and maybe doing a [inaudible 00:01:05] for the home.
Now that said, a majority of our clients do do a type of trust, whether it’s a living trust or an asset protection castle trust. For example, a majority of our clients, they want to protect their children from things like divorces, lawsuits, creditor actions and bankruptcies for their lifetime. And too often, living trusts take what I call the pillowcase of money approach, where they’re just launching a pillowcase of money at their beneficiaries, maybe at a certain age, maybe 25, 30, 35. But all you’re doing is launching a pillowcase of money over what I call the wall of time. What happens if that child gets a divorce at age 36? Half that money might be gone. Or what happens if that child passes away at age 36? All of that money might be gone, going to a spouse versus going down to the children of the beneficiaries.
So one of the things that we can do, is that we can leave a lifetime of asset protection to the beneficiaries, so that no matter what their age is, whatever they decide to leave in the trust would be protected from a divorce, a lawsuit, creditor action, bankruptcy, ensure that the money stays in the bloodline, stays in the family, versus being lost to maybe a lawsuit, because society is more litigious than ever.
So understand there are different levels of planning and different levels of attorney. As a Certified Elder Law Attorney, as an adjunct professor, as a contributor to ICLE, as someone that gives continued education to other attorneys, financial advisors, insurance professionals, we have a different level of planning than your average general practice attorney, or even your average estate planning attorney.
So it’s similar to … I do this martial art called Jiu-Jitsu, where there’s different belts. So you have a white belt, a blue belt, a purple belt, brown belt, black belt. Well, a black belt knows more than a white belt, and sometimes that white belt or blue belt might not even know what they don’t know. And that’s part of the frustration I have, is trying to help clients understand that just because someone’s a lawyer, doesn’t automatically mean that they have a deep level of knowledge in the area that you’re seeing them with.
So I’m a big fan of working with specialist people that focus on and really are experts in that area. So if you were pulled over for a DUI, or going through a divorce, you would want to work with a divorce attorney, or the best criminal attorney you could find. Similarly when it comes to working on your estate plan. And some people … I was at a church event, and someone was talking about how, through their work benefits, they got a free will, right? And so it’s kind of like you get what you pay for. So I’ve seen a lot of those prepared by things like ARAG or UAW Legal Services, and without even looking at it, I can tell you exactly what it says, and …
So just understand there’s different levels to it, just like in martial arts. You have a white belt, blue belts, purple belt, brown belt, black belt. Certified Elder Law Attorneys, CELAs, are thought of as black belts when it comes to this area of law. And then there’s even different levels in terms of CELAs, so understand that not all attorneys are created equal, not all estate plans are created equal.
And I think a lot of the basic revocable trusts are really oversold, and those people either would be better served by paying less money for just a will-based estate plan, relying on beneficiary designations to avoid probate, or most likely better served by sitting down with an attorney that has more sophisticated options for them, where they can build in a lifetime of asset protection for their beneficiaries, or, taking even one step further, create a castle trust to protect them from lawsuits and long-term care costs.
So something to to think about. Understand that there are different levels of estate planning, different levels of knowledge as it related to estate planning. This has been Chris Berry with Berry’s Bites.