Who Should Be Your Successor Trustee?

Posted on February 24, 2017

If you have a revocable living trust, you probably named yourself as trustee so you can continue to manage your own financial affairs. Eventually, however, someone will need to step in for you when you are no longer able to act due to incapacity or death.

The Successor Trustee plays an important role in the effective execution of your estate plan. The choice of a Successor Trustee is one of the most important choices our clients make.

Responsibilities of a Successor Trustee

At Incapacity:  If you become incapacitated, your Successor Trustee will step in and take full control of your finances for you – paying bills, making financial decisions, even selling or refinancing assets. Often your Successor Trustee will also serve as your Agent under your Financial Power of Attorney.

After Death: After you die, your Successor Trustee acts just like an executor would – takes an inventory of your assets, pays your final bills, sells assets if necessary, has your final tax returns prepared, and distributes your assets according to the instructions in your trust.

What You Need to Know:

  • Trustees are fiduciaries. A fiduciary is a person to whom property or power is entrusted for the benefit of another. A fiduciary duty in a trust is the legal duty to act solely in the beneficiary’s interests. Your Successor Trustee will be able to do anything you could with your trust assets, as long as it does not conflict with the instructions in your trust document and does not breach any fiduciary duty. Continue reading
Posted in Estate Planning, Legacy Fiduciary Services, PLC, Trust & Estate Administration

Jeremy L. Pryor Selected Speaker for NBI Workshop

Posted on February 9, 2017

Attorney Jeremy L. Pryor was selected to instruct a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) workshop for the National Business Institute (NBI). The program will take place on March 9th in Richmond, Va. The title fo the program is Protecting Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid.

The National Business Institute (NBI) is a national provider of continuing legal education and training.

Posted in Asset Protection Planning for Long Term Care, Attorneys in the News, Elder Law

‘Til Death Do Us Part – Estate Planning Tips for Commitment Without Marriage

Posted on February 6, 2017

Content provided by WealthCounsel; reviewed and edited by Beth Ann R. Lawson, Esq.

Advice columnist Ann Landers once observed that “love is friendship that has caught fire.” For many Americans, such feelings are not being formalized by marriage. This growing group of committed partners includes all ages with many seniors now expanding the numbers.


  • Per the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 112 million people in the U.S. are unmarried;
  • 45 percent of our country’s households are “unmarried households.”
  • In 2013, the CDC found that “cohabitation [without marriage] is now a regular part of family life in the U.S.”

The law has not kept up with these societal trends. If you and your significant other love each other but do not want to tie the knot, you need an estate plan that provides for each partner’s specific needs which protect both the partner along and any other loved ones you wish to protect. When the cost of long term care enters a family’s life, then marriage is a true legal tie that binds the two incomes and assets to the cost of the long term care for one or both.  For many seniors, paying long term care for a second spouse at the risk of leaving nothing to their own family is too big a price to pay.

Estate planning for married couples can seem pretty straightforward because there are long-standing legal and tax strategies. Unmarried couples may need to take a more individualized approach in order to achieve both their mutual and separate goals. Following are some documents and methods to consider when creating or updating estate plans for those who are legally single and committed to another person.

Living Trusts

Living trusts allow you to use your assets while you are alive. After you pass away, the trust can bypass the court probate process when transferring property to loved ones. A trust can keep your affairs out of public record. It can empower someone else to handle your finances if you become unable to do so. Trusts tend to cost more up-front than some other solutions, but the life, incapacity and death benefits they provide cannot be easily or reliably replicated with other planning options. A trust is very often the superior estate planning tool and a cornerstone of most comprehensive plans, especially for couples who have not formalized their relationships with a legal marriage but intend to remain committed to the other.


A pour-over will can be an effective “backup” and compliment to a revocable trust. When you pass away, your assets get “poured-over” into your trust.  Assets are then distributed to your beneficiaries per the terms and within the protections of that trust. The pour-over will keeps things simple, making the process less stressful (and prone to error) for your executor and trustee. It also helps wrap up loose ends, in case some assets were not transferred to your trust before you passed away.

What happens if you die without a will or other estate plan? Courts refer to this as “dying intestate.” It means that the rules that will apply to your estate distribution are generic state laws. These laws rarely, if ever, account for long-term unmarried partners, so a will is essential to protect a person to whom you are committed. As an unmarried couple, you simply cannot rely on the intestate laws to work for you.

Beneficiary Designations

Most retirement accounts and many other types of accounts allow you to designate a “beneficiary,” or a person who will automatically receive what’s in the account when you die. Make sure you update your beneficiaries on your 401(k), IRA, or other retirement accounts, as well as on life insurance and other documents. Depending on how your trust is designed, your circumstances and your goals, you may name one or more trusts as the beneficiary rather than an individual person.

Legal/Financial Power of Attorney, Advance Medical Directive, and Similar Documents

These documents allow you to designate your significant other as the person who has the right to make certain types of decisions and sign documents on your behalf in different legal situations if you become incapacitated. If no such power exists, the decision-making task typically passes to a close blood relative and typically requires a court proceeding called a guardianship or conservatorship. Your lawyer can help you determine which powers should be covered by these different documents to ensure that enough authority is granted while still providing protection against unauthorized actions.

Whether you are 30 years of age or 90 years of age, if you have been living as a committed couple for years, or are eyeing retirement options, or just beginning a family with a person who has not been legally recognized as your spouse, you probably have questions, and you should.  How should you protect yourself and family financially as you and your partner age? What can you do to enshrine the values you hold dear for the next generation? What if an unwanted event happens, throwing you and your partner off balance — what contingency plans are in place?

Our experienced estate planning attorneys can help you identify a strategy create the peace of mind which you, your partner and your separate families need. Please call or email us to schedule a private consultation.

Posted in Estate Planning

Caution: Creditors May Have Easy Access to Inherited IRAs

Posted on January 9, 2017

Content provided by WealthCounsel; reviewed and edited by Kenneth A. Dodl, Esq.

Do you have IRAs or other retirement accounts that you plan to leave to your loved ones?  If so, proceed with caution.  Most people don’t know the law has changed: inherited retirement accounts no longer have asset protection, meaning they can be seized by claims against your beneficiaries.


How Can Inherited IRAs Be Protected?  Enter the Retirement Plan Trust

Fortunately, you can still protect your retirement account for your beneficiaries but only if you take action.  Many people are now using Retirement Plan Trusts as part of their estate planning to protect retirement assets.  The Retirement Plan Trust is a special type of trust just for retirement accounts that can be designed to work with your Revocable Living Trust or to stand on its own.

A properly drafted Retirement Plan Trust:

  • Protects the inherited retirement accounts from creditors as well as predators and lawsuits
  • Ensures that your retirement accounts provide for the long-run by stretching required distributions over the life expectancy of your beneficiaries, even grandchildren!
  • Can help ensures that inherited retirement accounts remain in your family and out of the hands of in-laws or former in-laws
  • Allows for experienced investment management and oversight of the assets
  • Prevents your beneficiaries from “blowing” your retirement account on exotic vacations, expensive jewelry, designer shoes, and fast cars, and the taxes that come with unwise distributions
  • Enables proper planning for a special needs beneficiary
  • Permits you to name minor beneficiaries such as grandchildren without the need for a court-supervised guardianship
  • Facilitates generation-skipping transfer tax planning to ensure that estate taxes are minimized or even eliminated at each generation of your family

The Bottom Line on Protecting Inherited IRAs

Unfortunately, the changes in the law have made naming your children as outright beneficiaries on your retirement accounts risky business.  However, we are here to help you decide whether an RPT is a good fit for you as part of your estate plan, and we are happy to answer your questions about protecting your retirement accounts. We look forward to hearing from you.

Posted in Estate Planning, Retirement Planning Trusts Tagged |

3 Celebrity Probate Disasters and Tragic Lessons

Posted on January 5, 2017

Content provided by WealthCounsel; reviewed and edited by Beth Ann R. Lawson, Esq.

Most of us would assume that individuals of extreme wealth would take steps to protect their estates and the people they love. Yet some of the world’s richest and most famous people pass away with no estate plan in place. Others made estate planning mistakes which tied up their fortunes and heirs for years in court. Three high-profile celebrity probate disasters offer lessons from which we can all learn regardless of the size of our individual estates.

Tom Carvel, The Ice Cream Man

Photo Courtesy of Carvel Ice Cream

As the man who invented soft-serve ice cream and established the first franchise business in America, Tom Carvel had a net worth of up to $200 million when he died in 1990.




  • He did have a will and accompanying trust that provided for his widow, family members and donations for several charities, but he also named seven executors, all of whom had a financial stake in the game.
  • The executors began a round of infighting that lasted for more than 7 years and cost millions. In the end, Carvel’s widow passed away before the disputes could be settled and before she inherited.

Lesson learned: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Your trustee and executor may have to make tough decisions. Consider naming executors and trustees who have no financial interest in your estate to reduce the risk of favoritism. Consider having only a single trustee and executor rather than a committee, and naming successors in case your named individual cannot act.

Jimi Hendrix, Guitarist

Passing away tragically at age 27, rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix left no will.

  • What he did leave behind was a long line of relatives, music industry bigwigs, and business associates who had an interest in what would become of his estate – including intellectual property that would continue to earn.
  • An attorney managed the estate for the first two decades after Jimi’s death, after which Jimi’s father Al Hendrix successfully sued for control of the estate.
  • But when Al attempted to leave the entire estate to his adopted daughter upon his passing, Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix, sued, launching a messy probate battle that left no clear winners.

Lesson learned: When you don’t leave a comprehensive estate plan, the conflict can last for generations. Even if you’re not a celebrity, we can put your wishes in writing so they are carried out after your death rather than opening a door to costly conflict.

Prince, Musical Genius

The court battle waging over Prince’s estate is a probate disaster.

  • When the 80’s pop icon died in early 2016, he left no estate plan (reportedly due to some previous legal battles that left him with a distrust of legal professionals in general).
  • The lines are already being drawn for what will likely be a costly and lengthy court battle among Prince’s heirs.
  • Sadly, there’s even a battle looming about determining, for certain, who his heirs actually are.

Lesson learned: Accurate and up-to-date legal documentation protects your legacy for those people that you wished to protect. Don’t let a “rumor” of a bad experience stop you from acting.  Don’t leave your heirs to fight and potentially lose their inheritance.

Celebrity probate disasters serve as stark reminders that no one’s wealth is exempt from the legal trouble which can occur without estate planning designed specifically to meet your family’s unique needs and gifts. We are here to help you. Call us today at (757) 689-8668 to discuss protecting your assets for your loved ones and don’t forgot Fido and Cleo, the family pets!

Posted in Estate Planning, Trust & Estate Administration