Revocable Living Trusts
Revocable Living Trusts should not be confused with irrevocable medicaid trusts or “medicaid asset protection trusts”. Any lawyer who does estate planning has had more than one telephone conversation like this:
Caller: “Saw your ad in the Yellow Pages. How much for a simple Will?”
Me: “Well it all depends. Is it for you and your wife?”
Me: “Do you have young children?”
Me: “Then you shouldn’t have a “simple” Will, you need a Will with a Testamentary Trust.”
Caller: “What’s that?”
No “simple” Will. So, 15 minutes later, after having explained about a Testamentary Trust, discussed who should be Executor, who should be Trustee, who should be Guardian, and explained about Advance Directives, I get the bottom-line question: “How much”.
When I state a fee, there’s a pause, then: “Well, I can get a Will on LegalZoom.com for $69 and for $119 they’ll even make unlimited revisions for 5 years!”
Me: “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
Do it yourself docs. Barry Rabin is a lawyer I talk to regularly as a result of our participation in several Chester County Bar Association Sections (Elder Law, Probate and Estates). A big part of his Thorndale area practice is estate planning. He has a Guest Column in today Daily Local News: ‘Buy” a will from O.J.’s lawyer?. The article was prompted by seeing an ad on TV promoting do-it-yourself legal documents through LegalZoom.com.
Barry explains how people can go wrong by using the internet. They don’t have the benefit of an experienced lawyer who understands their situation. Some people will say his comments are self-serving. And that mine are self-serving when I echo them. So be it.
Trial run. Barry told me that he tried out LegalZoom.com, going through the fill in boxes. I have just done so, also. For one thing, it is not easy to answer the questions on the pull-down menus knowledgeably. Several made me wonder exactly what information was sought. Or what was meant. Couple examples:
If a spouse dies in a common disaster without proof of who went first, do you want to say it’s the spouse, it’s you, or neither? There’s a brief description of the effect of the first two possibilities. I defy an ordinary person to truly understand the ramifications of the two options or the effect of silence.
Saving taxes. A brief comment indicates a Credit Shelter provision has something to do with preserving a deceased person’s federal estate tax exclusion. How does that work? Another option is a Will with Testamentary Trust. What kind of provisions are in this kind of Trust? Can you have both?
Those trusts involve a number of issues pertaining to ages of distribution, instructions to the Trustee, and funding. A full understanding of how they work is vital. In a popup, Terms of Service, LegalZoom.com makes clear it is not practicing law, no legal advice is being offered and it has no responsibility for anything which goes wrong in the use of the documents.
Who gets what? I tried to show that each of my 3 children is to receive 33-1/3% of my estate if my wife is predeceased. The form wouldn’t take it, requiring the total to be 100%. So I went back and gave one child 33.4%, the other two, 33.3%. They aren’t equal. Minor, perhaps, but I want to treat them equally.
And the approach can be quite wrong. For example, indicating that arrangements for disposition of remains goes in the front of the Will. Such directions should be in a Health Care Power of Attorney, not the Will; seldom is a Will looked at in time to make use of such instructions. And don’t forget Revocable Living Trusts.
Cookie cutter approach. Anyway, like Barry Rabin, I urge people to find an attorney “who’s experienced and trained to look at your entire estate situation and not just fill in the blanks of a cookie-cutter Will form.” That attorney is here, not in Los Angeles. Is that self-serving?