Debunking 9 Living Trust Myths

Revocable Living Trusts (or simply, living trusts) are a powerful, yet often misunderstood estate planning tool. Many people miss out on an important estate planning document simply because of preconceived notions about living trusts.

In reality, living trusts offer many benefits and are one of the most useful estate planning strategies available to protect you and your family’s future. Let’s debunk some common myths surrounding living trusts so you can consider whether or not this estate planning tool might be right for you and your loved ones.

Myth #1: Living trusts are only for the very wealthy

For many, the word ‘trust’ conjures an image of wealth. You may think of billionaires leaving large inheritances and sprawling estates to their children, and immediately brush the word aside.

But the reality is, a living trust can provide benefits to many ‘regular’ people who are not among the super wealthy. A living trust is a fantastic foundation for many estate plans. If you want to make things easier and provide protection your family in the event of your incapacity or death, a living trust may be the right tool for you.

Myth #2: You give up control of your assets when you create a trust

Many believe that creating a living trust transfers control of assets away from the creator of the trust. Fortunately, as the grantor (creator) of the trust, you’re still in charge.

Once the living trust is created, you maintain control of your assets, including how they are distributed to beneficiaries, when they are distributed, and who will control your trust in the event of your incapacity or death.

You will also have continual access to the funds in the living trust. As a trustee of your own living trust, there is no need to worry about someone else spending or investing your assets without your knowledge, and you’ll be able to retrieve funds when you need them. Remember, as a trustee you are still the boss.

Myth #3: Living trusts only benefit beneficiaries, not the trust creator

While living trusts are designed to pass assets to beneficiaries, grantors (the trust creators) also benefit from setting up a living trust. You’ll be able to control how your affairs are handled and how your assets are distributed in the future, giving you peace of mind now.

You’ll also be able to maintain your privacy. Unlike a will, a living trust is a private legal document that will not become a part of the public record in Minnesota. You’ll be able to keep your estate details private, including information about your assets and beneficiaries.

Myth #4: Creating a living trust is complicated and expensive

It’s true that living trusts are more involved legal documents than wills. They have to be to provide you and your loved ones with benefits like avoiding probate and avoiding court control of assets at incapacity. Thankfully, they can be efficiently set up by an estate planning attorney.

While living trusts are typically more expensive than wills up front, they can actually save you and your loved ones significant amounts of money by avoiding probate expenses. They’ll also save large amounts of time, and help your loved ones avoid aggravation and stress in the future by smoothly distributing assets without the need for probate proceedings in court.

Myth #5: A living trust can’t be updated

Many believe that once it’s set up, a living trust is written in stone. However, since it’s a ‘revocable living’ trust, it can be continually updated and even revoked.

With the help of an estate planning attorney, you can modify or revoke your living trust when changes occur in your life to ensure your assets are handled correctly and your loved ones are protected.

Myth #6: Living trusts automatically avoid probate

Living trusts can help you avoid probate, but setting one up doesn’t guarantee this automatically. With the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, you’ll need to make sure your trust is set up correctly and ensure you fund or transfer your assets to the living trust.

Any asset that isn’t properly funded to your living trust may be subject to probate. Thankfully, as long as you fund your assets into your living trust, you’ll likely be able to avoid probate.

Myth #7: A living trust keeps your wealth safe from creditors

While a living trust can protect who controls your assets in case of your death or incapacity, you can’t avoid payments to creditors by transferring assets to a living trust. You’ll still likely need to pay your debts, and you won’t be able to make your assets off limits to creditors by setting up a living trust.

Myth #8: Living trusts protect your assets from nursing homes

Living trusts are self-settled, meaning that you maintain control of your assets and receive the benefits of owning them. This is a central advantage of creating a living trust, but it does mean that a trust won’t protect your assets if you need to pay for a nursing home.

Setting up a trust won’t help you qualify for benefits like Medicaid or Medical Assistance. Assets held in your living trust are still yours. Accordingly, you would still need to pay for a nursing home or long-term home care services.

Myth #9: A living trust is all I need for an estate plan

A living trust is a very effective estate planning tool, and can serve as a powerful foundation to your estate plan. However, it doesn’t represent a complete estate plan by itself.

You’ll need other estate planning documents to supplement your living trust, like a ‘pour-over will,’ advance medical directives, powers of attorney, and more.

Myths Busted? Ready for a Living Trust? Mullen & Guttman Can Help

Now that you’ve seen past the myths, it’s time to talk to an estate planning lawyer to determine if a revocable living trust is the right tool to address your unique concerns and achieve your goals. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about living trusts and how you can take control of your future today.

Why Estate Planning for Young Adults is a Good Idea

Back to school season is upon us and many Minnesotans are busy preparing their recent high school graduates to head off to college this fall. Getting your child ready for this new journey can be daunting. However, there is one vital task that often doesn’t make it onto a family’s college prep checklist: Having your child speak to an estate planning attorney.

Why Young Adults Need an Estate Plan

In the midst of preparing for this major life change in your child’s world you may have forgotten one key thing: your child is now legally an adult. And while they may be ready to expand their horizons through higher education, there’s a good chance they will still want Mom or Dad’s help if they get sick or need assistance with a financial or legal matter.

At age 18, your child’s medical, financial, and legal decisions become fully their own. If they were to be in a serious accident and rendered unconscious or disabled, you would no longer be able to legally make decisions on their behalf without first going to court. Estate planning for young adults seeks to address these issues with a few basic documents.

Estate Planning Documents for Young Adults

While we hope that this is a situation that you and your loved ones never face, the reality is that each year about a quarter of a million young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are hospitalized. Without the right legal documents in place, these young adults’ families risk being excluded from making critical medical decisions on behalf of their loved one.

To make sure you have the right tools to address this possibility, the attorneys at Mullen & Guttman recommend that anyone over the age of 18 establish a few, basic estate planning documents:

1. Advance Healthcare Directive:

A Health Care Directive informs others of your preferred medical treatment should you become permanently unconscious, terminally ill, or otherwise unable to make or communicate decisions regarding treatment. This document will allow your child to name an agent to help make medical decisions on their behalf in the event they’re unable to do so themselves.

2. Durable Power of Attorney:

A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that empowers another individual to carry on your financial and legal affairs in the event you become disabled or incapacitated. This document will allow your child to name a trusted loved one to make financial and legal decisions on their behalf in the event of an emergency. This tool will allow you to take care of their bank accounts and pay bills if they’re unable to.

Depending on how this document is designed, this privilege can be granted upon incapacity or immediately (which may be helpful in the event your child wants you to help with financial concerns while they’re away at school across the country.)

3. HIPAA Authorization:

Some medical providers have refused to release information, on the grounds that the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, prohibits such releases. Some providers may even refuse to release this information to family members authorized by the Healthcare Power of Attorney.

To ensure doctors can openly communicate with you about your child or grandchild’s condition and care in the event of an emergency, they should sign a HIPAA authorization form that allows the release of medical information to parents or other trusted family members.

Mullen & Guttman Can Help

Talking through these scenarios can be worrying. But having difficult conversations and setting up estate planning documents for your young adult will both encourage responsibility as they enter adulthood and give both of you peace of mind for the future.

Attorneys Joel Mullen and Matt Guttman are happy to help you through the process of estate planning for young adults and ensure your loved ones have the proper legal tools in place. Schedule a complimentary consultation today.

What to Do When Your Attorney Retires

An estate planning attorney can help you create a plan to protect your loved ones in case of your death or incapacity. This process may include sharing personal information with your attorney. Often, clients form a close connection with their attorney during the creation of their estate plan.

But what happens if your attorney dies, retires, or moves?

You will likely feel stranded, especially if your estate planning lawyer’s departure is sudden, or if they fail to give you notice. Losing your attorney’s expertise and advice may cause you to wonder whether your estate plan is still effective. Additionally, if your attorney maintained your estate planning documents, you may lose important originals of documents like wills or living trusts.

At such a time, you may understandably feel lost, confused, and disappointed, but it’s important not to panic. Let’s walk through the issues you may face and how to continue to protect the future of your loved ones through this difficult situation.

Your Estate Planning Attorney Dies, Retires, or Moves

Whether your estate planning attorney dies, retires, or moves to another state, you will likely be facing the same issues and asking the same questions. Is my estate plan still valid? Who can I call with questions? Who can I contact to update my plan with life changes? Who will guide my loved ones upon my incapacity? Who will help my loved ones settle my estate?

Attorneys typically try to protect clients in the event of a sudden, unexpected inability to practice law. This may include partnerships with other attorneys to reach out to clients and close the practice.

However, it’s certainly possible that your attorney didn’t make the necessary arrangements or wasn’t able to reach you. If your attorney failed to make contingency arrangements or didn’t notify you of their departure, you may be left without legal advice and possibly without legal documents.

Don’t Panic, Your Estate Plan is Still Valid

If this is your situation, or you fear your attorney has no back-up plan, don’t panic. Your wills, trusts, and other documents are still valid, even if your original attorney is no longer able to guide you.

An experienced estate planning attorney should be able to assist you with a will or trust that was prepared by another attorney. Additionally, your loved ones can seek counsel after your incapacity or death with a qualified estate planning attorney. While this may be a new relationship, it does not have to be the source of additional stress.

Your estate planning lawyer may have stored the originals of important estate plan documents, like your will or trust. Leaving your documents with your attorney wasn’t a bad decision on your part, but it may be a decision you want to reconsider.

Searching for your lost attorney and potentially lost documents may prove to be a complicated and time-consuming process. Typically, a good starting point is to seek the counsel of a new estate planning attorney. You’ll likely need a new attorney anyway, and they can help guide you through what may be a difficult situation.

Hiring a New Estate Planning Attorney

The experienced Minnesota estate planning attorneys at Mullen & Guttman can help you sort through the fallout of your previous attorney leaving. We understand the difficulties of losing your attorney and can review your estate plan to ensure everything is in place.

Additionally, switching to a new estate planning lawyer gives you a fresh start on your estate plan. If your plan was will-based, you could consider a revocable living trust, to avoid probate, maintain your privacy, and more.

What Can I Do to Prepare?

While the retirement or passing of your estate planning attorney may be a disappointment, it doesn’t have to be a source of stress. The attorneys at Mullen & Guttman recommend taking a few simple steps to prevent a potential retirement or death resulting in conflict or confusion down the road:

1. Keep your contact information updated with your attorney’s office

If your attorney retires, moves, or passes away, their office should contact you to communicate the situation. To do so, they will need your current phone number, mailing address, and email address on hand. If these primary details change, be sure to call your attorney’s office.

2. Know where your original documents are stored (and communicate the location to your loved ones)

It is important that your loved ones can locate your original, signed estate planning documents in the event of your incapacity or death. No matter where you choose to have your documents stored, be sure that your loved ones know where to find them when needed.

3. Have your estate plan reviewed periodically

The attorneys at Mullen & Guttman advise our clients to revisit their planning documents at regular intervals to ensure that no major life changes need to be accounted for (typically every 3-5 years). If you take this step, you are very likely to discover if your attorney’s situation has changed without providing you proper notice. If this happens you should seek new legal counsel.

Attorneys Joel Mullen and Matt Guttman routinely encourage review meetings to serve as a chance to introduce your loved ones to your planning documents and the attorneys who have prepared them. This way, if something should happen, your loved ones will know who to contact and how to reach them.

Schedule a free consultation today to speak with our estate planning attorneys and learn how we can review your plan and ensure your family is protected.

8 Reasons to Consider a Revocable Living Trust

If you’re thinking about estate planning, a revocable living trust is perhaps the most important planning strategy you should consider. Revocable living trusts are a powerful estate planning tool that can offer protection for you and your family’s future. Let’s get into why a living trust can be such an important part of your estate plan.

What is a Revocable Living Trust?

A revocable living trust is a legal document that gives instructions for what you want to happen to your assets if you are incapacitated and when you die. Unlike a will, a living trust can help your estate avoid probate, prevent the court from controlling your assets if you become incapacitated, and give you control of the assets you leave to your loved ones.

Living trusts allow flexibility and customization, so you can choose where and when your assets are distributed and make changes any time.

Do I Need a Revocable Living Trust?

There’s a perception that living trusts are primarily for the very wealthy, but the reality is that living trusts can provide benefits to many “regular” people who are not wealthy in the traditional sense. A revocable living trust is a great foundation for an estate plan. In the long run, setting up a living trust can even end up costing you less than a will, since your loved ones should be able to avoid expensive probate procedures at both incapacity and death.

Reasons to Consider a Revocable Living Trust

1. Avoid probate

Unlike a will, a living trust can allow your loved ones to avoid a long and costly court-managed probate process when you pass away. When setting up a living trust, you’ll transfer title of assets from your individual name to the name of your trust. As the grantor (creator) of the trust, you still have total control of your assets, meaning you are still the “boss,” but the court will not be involved in controlling and transferring your assets upon incapacity and your passing.

If you happen to own real estate in multiple states, using a living trust should allow you to avoid multiple probate proceedings and save your family even more potential headaches in the future.

2. Can save you and your loved ones money

While living trusts are initially more expensive than wills since they’re more involved legal documents, they can save you and your loved ones a lot in the long run. Probate expenses typically add up to 3%-7% of the total estate value, so helping your family avoid these fees can save them a substantial amount of money after your passing.

Revocable living trusts are also harder to contest than a will, which may also save your loved ones both time and money. Additionally, if you are married, a living trust can be used to reduce or even eliminate your estate taxes, depending on the size of your estate.

3. Avoid court control of your assets at incapacity

Living trusts allow you to put a contingency plan in place in case of your own incapacity. When you set up the trust, you’ll appoint a trustee and successor trustee to manage your assets.

Typically, you would be your own trustee. However, in certain circumstances you might appoint a person or organization as your trustee. Either way, you can also name multiple successor trustees to manage your assets if you become incapacitated, allowing you to give control to someone you trust instead of the court.

4. Maintain your privacy

A living trust is a private legal document, and in most states, including Minnesota, it will not become a part of the public record. No one should be able to find information about the distribution of your estate without your consent. A will, on the other hand, is a public record that prevents you from keeping your estate details private, including information about your assets and names of your heirs and beneficiaries.

5. Flexible distribution to beneficiaries

A living trust allows you to control who will receive your assets, as well as when and how they will receive them. Upon your death, assets can be distributed to beneficiaries as soon as your successor trustee wraps up your final affairs, often a much quicker process than court-managed probate.

However, you can also choose to keep your assets in the trust, managed by your successor trustee, until your beneficiaries reach a certain age. You can even have the money distributed in installments to help ensure your beneficiaries spend it wisely. This flexible distribution of assets is an effective and customizable way to protect your family’s future.

6. Can be changed or revoked at any time until your incapacity/death

As the name implies, you can revoke or modify your revocable living trust at any time. The flexibility to update your plan when changes occur in your life allows you to ensure your family is being protected. For revisions to your living trust, like naming a new trustee, successor trustee, or beneficiary, you’ll want the guidance of an experienced living trust attorney.

7. Can be managed by an experienced trustee

If you don’t have the time, ability, or desire to manage your own trust, you can appoint a professional corporate trustee. A corporate trustee may also be a good fit if you do not have people in your life that you would “trust” to manage your trust. Corporate trustees are banks or trust companies that are experienced in managing trust assets, and also government-regulated, objective, and must follow the instructions in your trust.

Although professional trustees charge for their services, the fees are typically more than offset by their guidance and investment abilities. A professional trustee will give you the freedom to spend time with your loved ones, travel, or do whatever else you’d like without worrying about the day-to-day managing of your trust. A professional trustee will also give you assurance that your assets will managed and distributed in accordance with your wishes.

8. Gives you and your loved ones peace of mind

Due to its detailed and flexible nature, a revocable living trust allows you to plan for your future without worrying about unforeseen issues. Unlike a will, you can take steps to avoid an unintentional disinheritance, provide care for loved ones with special needs, control how your assets are distributed, and much more. You’ll get peace of mind now, and your loved ones will get peace of mind later.

Take Control of Your Future

Setting up a revocable living trust while you’re healthy and have the time to plan out your future is one of the best gifts you can give to your family. You may not think you need one yet, but taking this step proactively will give you control over your assets now and after your death or incapacity, giving you the assurance that your family will be protected.

Speaking with an experienced living trust lawyer will allow you to learn about the benefits of revocable living trusts in depth and apply them to your unique situation. Schedule a free consultation today to start taking control of your future.

5 Reasons Why DIY Estate Planning Can Do More Harm Than Good

If you’re considering a do-it-yourself estate plan, you’ve already taken an important step: proactively seeking to help your loved ones avoid hardships upon your incapacity or death. Establishing an estate plan is essential in helping your family and friends avoid disputes over your care and assets, higher estate taxes, a difficult court process, and more. 

Woman estate planning on a laptop

You may have utilized estate planning software, conducted research, or created your own estate planning checklist. However, without the guidance of an estate planning attorney, your efforts may be wasted. Planning for your estate may be more complex than you realize, and small mistakes can have large consequences. Let’s take a look at some of the common pitfalls you may encounter in DIY estate planning.

1. You may not realize your plan is incomplete. 

Estate planning documents are complex. Documents like wills and revocable living trusts take a significant amount of time to complete correctly, and it may not be clear when an estate planning document is complete or if a particular document has been properly executed, giving you a false sense of security. Additionally, you need to make sure your assets are actually funded or tied into your estate plan

2. Small mistakes might go unnoticed. 

Small changes in wording could have a massive impact for your family in the future. These errors can get lost in the estate planning document and may not be detected until it’s too late, leaving your family to deal with the fallout. For example, you could inadvertently disinherit a child or name the wrong person to settle your estate.

3. Online services aren’t state specific. 

Estate planning software is designed for a broad audience. However, each state has its own estate planning intricacies. For example, Minnesota law sets forth what should be included in a Healthcare Directive and statutory power of attorney. Using a general template for your estate plan could lead you to miss critical details and cause issues for your family down the road.

4. Online services aren’t customizable. 

Estate planning websites may not be customizable to your unique circumstances since they aim to appeal to a wide audience. One size simply doesn’t fit all. Your estate plan needs to be created to reflect your situation, goals, and concerns. Online services are only as good as the information entered, and there may not be options to create a full picture of your situation.

5. You get what you pay for. 

Online estate planning services are enticing largely because of their low prices. It can be tempting to get a cheap and easy will or revocable living trust, but in most cases you’ll get exactly what you pay for. Your plan may be incomplete, and you won’t have the support of trained estate planning attorneys when you get stuck. Estate plans are an investment in your family’s future security, not an area to cut costs. Doing your own planning may even cost your loved ones more money than meeting with an estate planning attorney.

Avoid an Accidental Disinheritance

At Mullen & Guttman, we’ve encountered a variety of faulty plans that were a result of do-it-yourself estate planning.

Here’s an example of a small mistake that would have caused major issues had it slipped through the cracks.

A number of years ago, our firm met with a gentleman to review his estate plan. The man had two biological and two step-children he had raised from an early age and treated the same. Prior to meeting with Mullen & Guttman, this man created his will using an online estate planning software. He had intended for his assets to be split equally among all four children.

Unfortunately, the estate planning tool he used employed language that passed his assets down ONLY to his biological descendants, disinheriting his other two children. During his meeting with our firm, this oversight was caught immediately, and a new estate plan was drafted to pass his assets to all four children.

Avoid Unfixable Issues

Sometimes, do-it-yourself estate plans go wrong, and there’s no way to fix them. Here’s an example.

A client came to see us after her mom died suddenly at a relatively early age. The mom had done her plan with an online estate planning tool. She had a fallout with her oldest child, and attempted to disinherit this child from her will. However, she did not realize that the will would not control assets that passed by beneficiary designation. In fact, the mom’s largest asset was a life insurance policy, which she wanted to go to her youngest child.

Without the guidance of an estate planning attorney, she failed to update the beneficiaries on the life insurance policy, and the policy was split between the oldest and youngest child equally. Although her goal was to have all assets go to her youngest child, the oldest child ended up receiving a significant inheritance.

How the Estate Planning Attorneys at Mullen & Guttman Can Help

While helping hundreds of Minnesota families address their estate planning goals and concerns, the lawyers at Mullen & Guttman have encountered a myriad of DIY estate planning errors. Fortunately, most of these errors can be corrected with an updated estate plan prepared by an experienced estate planning lawyer.

Whether or not you’ve started creating your own estate plan, we can help you ensure that you’re effectively protecting yourself and your family. Schedule a free consultation today.

Estate Planning While at Home

The team at Mullen and Guttman, PLLC is dedicated to creating safe, flexible options for creating your estate plan. We’ve developed a 4-step, Covid-friendly planning process to help Minnesotans achieve their estate planning goals safely and efficiently.

Our simple, 4-step planning process:

Creating or updating your estate plan is a simple process you can begin from the safety of your home to protect your loved ones and gain some peace of mind. A properly designed estate plan gives your loved ones the tools they need to care for you if (and when) you need them to.

Call our team at (612) 756-7272 to schedule a free consultation and begin working on our estate plan today.

What to Do When a Loved One Passes

The time immediately following a loved one’s passing is never easy and can often be overwhelming. In addition to sorting through a variety of emotions, you may find yourself with an extensive list of confusing and draining responsibilities, so it’s important to stay in touch with family and friends for support and encouragement. If your loved one passes in the midst of shelter-in-place orders, connecting with family and friends virtually can help you through this difficult process.

Make sure to discern and honor the final wishes of your loved one. Final wishes may be included in an estate plan, but often are recorded separately. These include whether the deceased is an organ donor, whether they want to be cremated or buried, and other instructions for the funeral. Be sure to contact immediate family to clarify final wishes.

Arranging the Funeral

Once the family has been contacted, you can begin funeral preparations. Where possible, divide responsibilities among family members. If the deceased left no instructions, seek the advice of family members as you plan for the funeral. While keeping in mind the wishes of the deceased and family, follow these general guidelines:

  1. Set a clear budget. Costs can add up, with the average funeral coming in between $7,000-$15,000.
  2. Research funeral home options that align with your budget. Consult family or friends who have experience making funeral arrangements.
  3. Choose a funeral home.
  4. Meet with the funeral director and clearly communicate the plan for the funeral: embalming or cremation, open or closed casket, burial site, religious traditions, and any other details you’ve gathered from final wishes or family.
  5. Arrange for the headstone. You can do this through the cemetery or an outside vendor.
  6. Prepare an obituary. You can do this through the funeral home, write one yourself, or ask a family member.
  7. Spread the word. When a date and time are set for the service, prepare a list of well-wishers to invite. Note that during the current COVID-19 crisis funerals and memorial services are often being streamed online. Include an address to send flowers and donations in the invitation.

Tasks to Complete and Documents to Gather

After the funeral, you and your family will have further tasks to complete. These tasks may include:

  • Securing Real Estate: Make sure to secure any real estate owned by your loved one. This may include changing locks, forwarding mail, updating utility services, and updating homeowner’s and automobile insurance. You may need to make arrangements for lawn care and/or snow removal.
  • Contacting Family and Friends: Keep friends and family informed of funeral and memorial details.
  • Contacting Your Loved One’s Professionals: Locate information for your loved one’s attorney, accountant, and financial advisor.

Most of these tasks require some kind of documentation. Here are some of the documents to gather:

  • Death certificate: You may need up to a dozen copies for various tasks. You can work with the funeral director to do this, or contact the Minnesota Office of Vital Records.
  • Personal Documents: Birth certificate, marriage or divorce certificates, military discharge papers.
  • Financial Documents: Financial or retirement account records, IRS returns, property deeds, vehicle titles.
  • Insurance: Locate life insurance policy and contact company, stop health insurance and update other insurance policies as needed.
  • Will/Living Trust: Locate the will or living trust of the deceased.

The Probate Process

If your loved one created their will or living trust with a lawyer, locate the original documents. It is usually beneficial to speak with an estate planning attorney. Be sure to find a law firm with experience in estate planning and administration, and a reputation for compassion and empathy.

It may be difficult to begin a legal process shortly after a loved one’s death. However, if your loved one had a will, you may need to go through probate to carry out their wishes and distribute their assets. If they had a living trust, you likely won’t need to go through probate, but you can still get guidance from estate planning lawyers.

So, what is probate? Probate is the legal process of settling an estate after a loved one dies. The property of the deceased is gathered and inventoried, their debts are paid, and everything left is either distributed in accordance with the will or divided among their heirs.

It’s a common misconception that if the deceased has a will, their estate doesn’t have to go through probate. Though a will can name a personal representative to allow the probate process to go more smoothly, the estate will still have to go through probate. If the deceased doesn’t have a will, the probate court will appoint a personal representative.

Since each estate is unique, the probate process is slightly different in every situation. However, the process generally follows these steps:

  1. Gather information and documents, including will, death certificate, and asset information.
  2. Meet with a probate attorney to prepare probate application or petition.
  3. File the probate application or petition with the proper probate court to appoint a Personal Representative (sometimes referred to as Executor or Administrator) for the estate.
  4. Publish notice of the probate in the appropriate newspaper.
  5. Give notice to heirs and beneficiaries under the will or to statutory heirs (if no will exists).
  6. Inventory and appraisal of estate assets by the Personal Representative.
  7. Payment of estate debt to rightful creditors.
  8. Sale of estate assets.
  9. Payment of estate taxes, if applicable.
  10. Final distribution of assets to beneficiaries or heirs.

Probate typically takes between nine and twelve months, and can drag on much longer if someone contests the will, if there are disputes between the personal representative and alleged creditors, or if the estate is complex and enters formal probate proceedings.

How Does Probate Work During the COVID-19 Crisis?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many legal processes, including probate. Currently, many hearings are being conducted by remote technology and certain fees and fines are delayed by 60 days. Since the coronavirus pandemic is a rapidly developing situation, it’s important to keep track of how the virus could impact your probate process by contacting your lawyer and checking the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.

How Mullen & Guttman’s Probate Attorneys Can Help You

The experienced Minnesota probate attorneys at Mullen & Guttman can assist you with your loved one’s living trust or will, and guide you through both the informal and formal probate processes. During the COVID-19 crisis, we are fully equipped to communicate with you by phone, Zoom, email, and mail, as well as conduct limited in-person meetings that observe social distancing and other appropriate safety precautions.

Even when the estate being administered appears to be straightforward, unexpected roadblocks can slow down the process. The experienced and compassionate Minnesota probate attorneys at Mullen & Guttman have helped many families through the probate process. We can assist you through each step of probate, from filing an application to distributing assets, as well as assist with the administration of a living trust and updating the estate plan for a surviving spouse or beneficiary.

Contact the probate lawyers at Mullen & Guttman to start your probate process today.

Consider Using a Trust to Protect Your Child’s Inheritance from Divorce

You’ve worked hard to leave your children a financial legacy, and the last thing you want is for half of your child’s inheritance to walk out the door with an ex-spouse if he or she gets divorced someday.  But, under today’s laws, that could actually happen if you don’t safeguard your family’s assets and plan ahead.

Although it isn’t pleasant to think about, you may have to take legal action to ensure that your married child inherits the assets you planned to leave them.  In many circumstances, an estate planning attorney will recommend that clients leave assets to their children in a trust.  Passing down your assets in a trust can keep them separate and out of reach from a divorcing spouse, as well as other creditors that may be knocking on your child’s door. If any of the following describe your child(ren), we highly recommend that you consider a trust.

Your child is unmarried.
If your child is currently unmarried, there is a good chance that he or she will be married at some point in the future. Since there is no way to know whether or not that marriage will be successful, it is a good idea to keep their assets protected in a trust—just in case.

Your child is newly married.
If you are or have been married, you know that there will be many bumps in the road.  There’s really no crystal ball here, but again, putting your child’s inheritance into a trust now will give you the peace of mind knowing that half the funds won’t walk out the door with your ex-son or daughter-in-law if things go south at any point in the marriage.

Your child is in a rocky marriage.
Even if your child has been married a long time, their marriage could still be struggling.  If you sense trouble and have a bad feeling about the future of their marriage, it may be a good idea to protect your child’s inheritance in a trust for all of the reasons listed above.
Trusts can be complex documents, and you will likely need the help of an estate planning attorney to set one up.  If you have questions or you are ready to get started, contact Mullen & Guttman Law Firm at (612) 756-7272 to set up an initial consultation.

3 Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Recent studies have shown that only a little more than half of all Americans have a Will or Trust document in place to direct their estate after they pass away, and that the vast majority of those documents have not been updated in the last five years.  Even worse, it’s been reported that most adult children are unaware if their parents even have an estate plan and would be unable to find estate planning documents, if they did indeed exist.  These can lead to serious troubles down the line and are among some of the top mistakes people make regarding their estate plans.  We have compiled this list of additional estate planning mistakes that you should be aware of, and hopefully avoid:

Family Squabbles

In a perfect world, there would be no sibling rivalry – both before and after the death of parents.  However, it’s just a fact of life that families don’t always get along, and that could not be more painful or true than when a parent passes and disputes arise about the inheritance.  A lot of times this is caused by unequal distributions amongst siblings.  Estate planning attorneys often advise their clients to have a conversation with their future beneficiaries in advance about why they are – or are not – leaving them certain assets or valuables in their estate.  If the parent is uncomfortable having this type conversation, a letter written to each beneficiary to be read upon the parent’s passing can serve the same purpose.

Unaccounted Taxes

Estate planning attorneys often see this issue come up with estates that do not leave enough revenue to pay estate taxes, forcing the beneficiaries to sell property such as homes or other assets just to pay off estate tax debt.  Careful planning with an estate planning lawyer can help you avoid these kinds of issues, and makes it worthwhile for you to meet with your estate planning attorney on a regular basis to learn about changes in the estate tax law for your financial situation so that you can update your estate plan accordingly.

Out-of-Date Estate Plan

Unexpected changes happen in life, such as a falling out with a family member, a divorce, or a new marriage.  However, legal issues arise when these changes are not accounted for in your legal documents.  For example, if you were to disinherit a child but not change your Last Will and Testament to reflect this – well, that child won’t technically be disinherited.  You can also flip that around and have a situation where you and your child have reconnected after a falling out, but if you never added that child back into your estate plan, they may not receive that inheritance you decided to give them after all.  Divorce and marriage can also wreak havoc on out-of-date estate plans, so it is important that you speak to an estate planning attorney after any major life events.

Preparing to Meet With an Estate Planning Attorney

A thorough and complete estate plan must take into account a significant amount of information about your assets, your family, your property, and your wishes during and after your life.  When you make your first appointment with an estate planning attorney, ask the attorney or the paralegal if they can provide a written list of important information and documents that you should bring to the meeting.  

Generally speaking, you should gather the following information before your first appointment with your estate planning lawyer.

Family Information
List the names, birth dates, death dates, and ages of all immediate family members, specifically current and former spouses, all children and stepchildren, and all grandchildren.

If you have any young or adult children with special needs, gather all information you have about their lifetime financial needs.

Property Information
For all real property you own or can reasonably expect to acquire, gather the property description, your ownership interest information, the address, market value, any outstanding mortgage balance, and the most recent tax assessment.

For any personal property of value (such as vehicles, jewelry, coins, antiques, stamps, and art), compile a list that includes a description, the physical location of each item, your ownership interest information, the market value, and any liens against the property.

Business Information
If you have an ownership interest in a business, make sure you have documents showing your ownership interest in the business, the business location, the names and contact information of other owners, and 2-3 years of past profit and loss statements.

Financial Information
Compile a list of all your financial accounts, including: checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, stocks and bonds, and U.S. Treasury notes.  If any of these accounts currently have designated beneficiaries, bring that information as well.

Gather all retirement savings information, including 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, IRAs, life insurance policies, Social Security statements, and pension information.  Make sure you have the account names, account numbers, current balances, outstanding loan balances, and currently named beneficiaries.

If any family members owe you debts, compile that information.

Questions to Think About
The following are some of the first questions your estate planning attorney will ask.  You are not required to have answers ready for all these questions, but because some of them are complex, it is a good idea to think through these issues before your appointment.

  • Who will be beneficiaries of your property?
  • Do you want to bequeath any specific items of property to specific individuals?
  • Is there anyone you do not want to be a beneficiary of any of your property?
  • Do you plan to make any bequests to any nonprofit organizations – university, church, charity, or other organization?
  • Do you know who you want to act as executor of your will?
  • Do you know who you want to act as trustee of any trusts you establish?
  • If you have minor children, who do you want to appoint as guardian?
  • Do you want to make arrangements for your health and financial well-being in the event you become unable to make decisions for yourself?
  • Do you have specific wishes for your funeral?
  • Are you a registered organ donor?<