If you are engaged to be married, divorce is probably the last thing you and your fiancé want to be thinking about. Yet you might be rightfully concerned about what would happen to your assets should your marriage end in divorce or in the event of your death. One option you might be considering for protecting your assets from these events is a prenuptial agreement.

However, even bringing up a prenup can be a romance killer that creates friction and distrust before the marriage even begins. And if it’s not properly created and executed, a divorce court can invalidate the asset protections offered by a prenup, so such agreements don’t exactly provide airtight protection.

Plus, a prenup would do nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict should you become incapacitated or when you die, which is something everyone who gets married needs to consider.

That said, prenups aren’t your only option. With proactive estate planning, for example, you can structure your assets in such a way that not only protects them from being lost to divorce, but also provides for both your future spouse and any children you may have from a previous marriage in the event of your death or incapacity.

Last week in part one, we discussed some of the benefits and drawbacks associated with using prenuptial agreements. Here, we’ll look at different estate planning vehicles that could provide similar—or even better—protection than prenups.

Revocable living trust created by you: By setting up a revocable living trust and funding it with your separate assets before getting married, those assets would likely be considered non-marital property and not subject to division by the court upon divorce—as long as you never commingle any of those assets with your spouse after your marriage. To ensure your separate property assets stay separate, it’s vital that you create and fund the trust with your assets before the marriage and never add any assets acquired or created during the marriage.

If you commingle assets acquired during the marriage in a trust containing your separate non-marital assets, a court could declare all of those assets as marital property subject to claim as part of a divorce settlement. To this end, a revocable trust only protects your separate assets from divorce if they remain separate from marital property throughout the whole length of your marriage.

You can also use a revocable living trust to provide for your surviving spouse and children from a previous marriage in the event of your death or incapacity. Unlike a will, assets held by a trust are not subject to the court process known as probate, so those assets would be immediately available to your spouse and kids, sparing your family the time, expense, and potential conflict of probate.

Note that since a revocable trust is “revocable” by definition, there is no asset protection for assets in your revocable trust, meaning that a revocable living trust will not protect your assets from creditors during your lifetime. If you want to achieve protection from both a future divorce and future creditors, you may want to consider one of the irrevocable trusts below.

Irrevocable trust created by your family: You can protect your assets from divorce by having your parents (or another loved one) establish an irrevocable trust for you before your marriage. Then, the Investment Trustee of the irrevocable trust (who could be you) could purchase all of your existing assets in an arms-length transaction and manage those assets inside of the trust, where they are totally protected from a future divorce and any future creditors.

Note that this strategy does require special provisions to ensure you cannot make distributions to yourself from the trust without the approval of an “independent trustee.” This trustee could be a best friend or a professional trustee, but cannot be anyone related or subordinate to you.

Your parents or grandparents could also leave any future inheritance you are to receive to this irrevocable trust, ensuring that your inheritance would also be protected. If this irrevocable trust is properly established and the terms are well-counseled and well-drafted, all assets the trust owns—and any assets left to you in the future—will be fully protected from a future divorce, future creditors, and even from estate taxes and probate upon your death. Yes, we like these trusts a lot.

Irrevocable trust created by you: It’s also possible for you to establish an irrevocable trust for yourself and gift your assets into the trust to keep them safe from divorce. However, this strategy is not as airtight as having a parent or grandparents establish the trust for you.

When you gift assets to an irrevocable trust, there’s a risk that a spouse or future creditor can claim fraudulent conveyance, if you gift those assets within a certain number of years (the exact time frame depends on the state) of the trust being set up. That said, if you are looking for asset protection and an alternative to a prenuptial agreement, and do not have a parent or grandparent available, a self-settled irrevocable trust can be a great second-best alternative.

Start your marriage off right
If you are getting ready to tie the knot and would like to ensure that assets you bring into the marriage don’t end up being lost in a future divorce settlement or are protected for your kids from a prior marriage, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, for trusted counsel and guidance on all of your options well before your marriage. Once you are married, many planning options are off the table.

And regardless of your concerns about divorce, you definitely need to create or update your estate plan to protect and provide for your soon-to-spouse and any children you have in the event of your death or incapacity. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ today to get this planning started.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

If you’re counting down the days to your wedding, divorce is probably the last thing you and your fiancé want to be thinking about, and yet you might be rightfully concerned about what would happen to your assets in the event of a divorce—or your death. You may also be worried that suggesting a prenuptial agreement could hurt your future spouse by making him or her feel as if you don’t trust them, thereby creating friction before the marriage even begins.

While such concerns are valid, you should know that prenups aren’t your only option for shielding your assets from these scenarios. With a well-designed estate plan, for example, you can structure your assets in such a way to keep what you have safe, provide for your future spouse in the event of your death, and also protect your assets in the event of a divorce. In this way, you can avoid having the prenup conversation all together.

We do recommend talking with your future spouse about your assets, what would happen in the event of your death, and also making plans in advance so you can feel confident that any children from a prior marriage (or an expected inheritance) are well-planned for no matter what happens. In this two-part series, I’ll first discuss the pros and cons of prenuptial agreements, and then in part two, provide estate-planning alternatives you may want to consider.

Prenup Pros

Sets clear financial expectations: For many couples, not openly discussing money and the partnership’s financial expectations can lead to big problems down the road. In fact, money problems are one of the leading reasons that marriages end, right up there with infidelity. A well-counseled prenuptial agreement could be an opportunity to start your marriage with complete transparency and clearly establish the financial and property rights of each spouse should a divorce occur or in the event of the death of either spouse.

Helps protect your separate assets: If you have any tangible or intangible assets you are bringing into the marriage that you don’t want to risk losing, a prenuptial agreement can help shield that property from divorce proceedings or from a future “elective share” of a spouse upon your death. This can be vital if you have significant assets like a business, real estate, intellectual property, vehicles, or family heirlooms. And, if you know you’ll want to ensure your assets go to children from a prior marriage, a prenuptial agreement can protect those assets for your children. 

Helps prevent a lengthy, contentious, and expensive divorce: Divorce is never fun and can often be both emotionally and financially painful, but putting a prenuptial agreement in place could make it less so. Clearly establishing the financial and property rights of each spouse when the relationship is at its most loving—and putting those parameters in a legally-binding document—can greatly reduce the chances of you two duking it out in court later if your marriage doesn’t work out. A long, expensive court battle is the last thing you need when dealing with the painful emotions and often-hefty legal fees associated with a divorce.

Helps prevent disputes over debt: Not everyone is equal in their ability to manage their money. As mentioned earlier, disagreements over finances are a frequent reason marriages fail. Therefore, it could be a good idea to use a prenup to identify who is responsible for taking care of specific debts and liabilities. You don’t want to be stuck paying for your ex-spouse’s credit card debt when you had nothing to do with racking it up.

Prenup Cons

It’s not exactly a romantic gesture: No matter how untrue this assumption may be, people often perceive creating a prenuptial agreement as expecting the marriage to fail or that it indicates a lack of trust. Such concerns should be respected and addressed as tactfully as possible. But the reality is marriage involves lots of issues that aren’t romantic, and dealing with such delicate matters up front could bring the two of you closer (or expose hidden red flags), regardless of whether an agreement is actually created or not.

Whatever you do, don’t wait to have the discussion until right before the ceremony. It’s not only extremely rude, but it could lead a court to invalidate an agreement put in place at the last minute as being created with undue pressure.

It might not be necessary: What a prenuptial agreement can cover depends on what kind of assets you have and where you live. Given this, existing divorce laws might already split your assets up in a way you think is fair. For example, in community-property states, the court will divide the property you and your spouse acquired during the marriage in an equal 50/50 split, while each spouse gets to keep his or her separate property. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can talk about how the laws in your state apply to you and your particular asset profile (hint: Alaska is an opt-in community property state).

It can’t resolve issues of child custody, support, or visitation: It’s important to note that prenups can’t address certain issues related to children and divorce. For example, though prenups can help ensure your children from a prior marriage are able to inherit assets you want to leave them, these agreements cannot be used to address child support, custody, or visitation rights. Those issues must be resolved by the court, so a prenup would be useless if that’s what you’re hoping to achieve.

It may require two lawyers to be valid: Prenuptial agreements may be invalidated if both parties are not represented by independent legal counsel. And depending on the lawyers you each work with, lawyers who are not well-experienced with counseling, care, and conflict resolution can inadvertently escalate or intensify conflicts, rather than supporting you and your future spouse to get on the same page.

Alternative options

If you plan ahead, certain estate planning vehicles can be used to protect your assets from divorce settlements and ensure that assets pass to your children from a prior marriage in the event of a divorce. There are different types of trusts, for instance, that can be set up to allow you to protect assets for yourself in the event of a divorce, and for your children in the event of your incapacity or death.

In fact, such planning vehicles may prove much more effective at protecting your assets and providing you with more control over how your assets are distributed than a prenup. In part two of this article, we’ll cover the various ways to use estate planning vehicles to proactively protect your assets, so you don’t need to have multiple attorneys or risk losing assets to a new spouse in the event of divorce or death.

Meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, for additional help deciding whether a prenuptial agreement is the right choice for you and to discuss other estate planning alternatives that could achieve similar protections.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

In the first part of this series, we discussed the vital importance of having updated advance directives in place in light of COVID-19. Here, we’ll look at several additional provisions you should consider adding to your directives to address potential contingencies related to the pandemic.


With new cases of COVID-19 currently surging in dozens of states, doctors across the country are joining lawyers in urging Americans to create the proper estate planning documents so medical providers can better coordinate their treatment and care should they become hospitalized with the virus.

The most crucial planning tools for this purpose are medical power of attorney and a living will, advance healthcare directives that work together to help describe your wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care should you become unable to express your own wishes. While all adults over age 18 should put these documents in place as soon as possible, if you are over age 60 or have a chronic underlying health condition, the urgency is paramount.

COVID-19 Considerations
What’s more, in light of COVID-19, even if you’ve already created these documents, you should revisit them to ensure they are up-to-date and address specific scenarios related to the coronavirus. In the first part of this series, we discussed some unique circumstances related to COVID-19 and its treatment that you should be aware of when creating or updating your directives.

Here, we offer several more provisions you should consider adding to your directives to ensure the documents address as many potential contingencies as possible during the ongoing pandemic. 


1. Permission to undergo experimental medical treatments:
Since there is currently no proven vaccine or other effective treatment for COVID-19, you may consider adding provisions to your directives authorizing your agent to consent to—or withhold consent for—any experimental treatments or procedures that may be developed. Seeing that it could be years before an effective vaccine or cure will be available on a widespread basis, such a provision could be particularly important if you contract the virus while such treatments are still in the trial phase.

2. Express your wishes about intubation and ventilators: In severe COVID-19 cases, patients often require intubation, which involves putting you into a medically induced coma and inserting a tube into your windpipe, allowing oxygen to be pumped directly to your lungs using a ventilator. However, some directives specifically prohibit intubation, since such measures are often a last resort and used primarily for life-support purposes. Indeed, some people’s greatest fear is being hooked up to a machine just to keep them alive.

That said, some coronavirus patients have successfully recovered after being on a ventilator, so you might not want a blanket prohibition of intubation in all cases. While the exact survival rates are still unknown, early reports from New York City health officials found fewer than 20% of COVID-19 patients ultimately survived after being placed on a ventilator. Reports from China and the U.K. found similar rates.

You’ll also need to weigh the fact that even if you survive after being placed on a ventilator, you’re likely to require months, or even years, of rehabilitation and may never regain the full quality of life you previously enjoyed. And if you’re elderly or have an underlying condition, the prognosis for full recovery is especially slim.

For these reasons, you should carefully review your directives’ provisions regarding intubation and ventilators with us and your doctor to be certain your documents accurately reflect your wishes. There is no right or wrong answer here, so it’s critical your loved ones and medical professionals know what you would want.

To help you make more informed decisions, read What You Should Know Before You Need a Ventilator, a doctor’s perspective about intubation’s potential health consequences for COVID-19 patients. Additionally, you can find a more comprehensive discussion of coronavirus treatment decisions at the non-profit Compassion & Choices resource page, COVID-19: Understanding Your Options.

3. Consider a liability shield for doctors and hospitals: Due to fear of getting sued, some doctors and medical facilities are hesitant to honor living wills and work with healthcare agents. To deal with this, consider including language in your directives that “indemnifies” medical providers, facilities, and your agent from any liability incurred as a result of following your directions. People and institutions will be much more likely to fully honor your wishes if they understand they likely won’t get hit with a lawsuit for doing so.

4. Make sure everyone knows about (and has current copies of) your directives: Even if you have the most well thought-out and professionally prepared directives around, they won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on if nobody knows about them. Both medical power of attorney and living wills go into effect the second you sign them, so you should immediately deliver copies to your agent(s), your alternate agents, your primary care physician, and any other medical specialists you’re seeing.

And don’t forget to give those folks new versions whenever you update the documents and have them tear up the old documents. This is a standard part of our practice when serving clients, so when you work with us on your legal documents, we’ll ensure that everyone who needs to have your documents always has the latest version.

Pandemic planning

The tragic reality of the pandemic is that far too many Americans are at risk of becoming seriously ill and even dying from COVID-19. In light of this dire situation, it’s vital that you and your loved ones take all possible precautions to not only mitigate your chances of catching the virus, but also having the best possible chance of surviving if you should become infected.

In the event you become hospitalized with COVID-19, having updated advance directives in place can make the medical decision-making process for both your healthcare providers and family much safer and easier, while helping ensure your treatment is carried out based on your personal wishes and values. Given the overloaded state of our healthcare system right now, facilitating your medical care in this way could ultimately save your life.

Whether you have yet to create these documents or need yours updated to address COVID-19, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, right away to take care of this urgent planning task.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country, doctors across the nation are joining lawyers in urging Americans to create the proper estate planning documents so medical providers can better coordinate their care should they become hospitalized with the virus.

The most critical planning tools for this purpose are medical power of attorney and a living will, advance healthcare directives that work together to help describe your wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care in the event you’re unable to express your own wishes. In light of COVID-19, even those who have already created these documents should revisit them to ensure they are up-to-date and address specific scenarios related to the coronavirus.

While all adults over age 18 should put these documents in place as soon as possible, if you are over age 60 or have a chronic underlying health condition, the need is particularly urgent. Contact us right away if you or anyone in your family needs these documents created.

And if you’d like to listen in on a training with my mentor on when you can create these documents yourself, when you need a lawyer, what it should cost, and how to get your documents done right, please listen to it now by registering at PersonalResourceMap.com.

Advance directives
Medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows you to name a person, known as your “agent,” to make healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated and unable to make those decisions yourself. For example, if you are hospitalized with COVID-19 and need to be placed in a medically induced coma, this person would have the legal authority to advise doctors about your subsequent medical care.

If you become incapacitated without medical power of attorney, physicians will generally look to someone in your family to make these decisions for you. If no family can be located, they may ask the court to appoint a legal guardian to be the decision maker. In either case, the person given this responsibility could be someone you’d never want having power over such life or death decisions—and that’s why having medical power of attorney is so important. Expressing your wishes in writing can also help empower the person making decisions for you to know that they are doing what you would have chosen.

While medical power of attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a living will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. For example, if you should become seriously ill and unable to manage your own treatment, a living will can guide your agent to make these medical decisions on your behalf.

These decisions could include if and when you want life support removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you. To ensure your medical treatment is handled in exactly the way you want and prevent your family from undergoing needless stress and conflict during an already trying time, it’s vital that you document such wishes in a living will.

Keep your directives updated
Even if you’ve already created advanced directives, now is the perfect time to review the documents to ensure they still match your wishes and circumstances. For instance, is the agent named in your medical power of attorney still the individual you’d want making these decisions? Has your health changed in ways that might affect your living will’s instructions? Are your values and wishes regarding end-of-life still the same?

Coronavirus considerations
Because COVID-19 is so contagious, family members of those who’ve contracted the virus are often not allowed to accompany them to the hospital. This means your agent likely won’t be there in person to make your treatment decisions. While most advance directives give your agent broad authority to communicate with your medical providers, the documents may not explicitly authorize certain types of remote communication.

To remedy this, you may want to consider adding language to your directives expressly authorizing your agent to give directions by phone, Zoom, email, Skype, FaceTime, and other methods. To facilitate this communication, you should bring copies of your directives with you to the hospital to give your doctors, and ensure your agent (and any alternate agents named) have updated copies on-hand as well.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the critical need for advanced directives in the age of COVID-19.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Life & Legacy Planning Session.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

In January, we reported how the deaths of NBA legend Kobe Bryant (Kobe) and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash demonstrated the vital need for estate planning for people of all ages. At the time, little was known about the planning strategies Kobe had in place to protect and preserve his estimated $600 million estate for his wife, Vanessa, and three surviving  daughters, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.

Since then, court filings made by Kobe’s widow have shed light on both the successes and failures of Kobe’s estate planning efforts. On the positive side, Kobe created an extensive estate plan, which included the Kobe Bryant Trust to protect his assets, reduce estate-tax liability, and pass on his wealth to his family.

While the contents of trust remain private, the court documents do provide a summary of the trust’s terms. Upon Kobe’s death, the trust was set up to allow Vanessa and her daughters to draw from the principal and income of the trust’s assets during Vanessa’s lifetime, with the remainder going to their children upon Vanessa’s death.

However, while the trust lists Vanessa and his oldest daughters Natalia, Gianna (who died in the crash with her father), and Bianka as beneficiaries, his youngest daughter, Capri, who was born just six months before Kobe’s death, was not included in the document. Reportedly, Kobe and his lawyers simply never got around to adding Capri to the trust before his untimely death at age 41.

A tragic oversight

Seeking to fix this oversight, Vanessa Bryant and Kobe’s best friend Robert Pelinka, Jr.—who were named Co-Trustees—petitioned the Los Angeles probate court to modify the trust by adding Capri as a beneficiary with equal rights as her sisters. Unless the court agrees with the petition, Capri will be ineligible to inherit her share of the family estate held in the trust, which could amount to wealth and assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to the petition, the trust was created in 2003 after the birth of the couple’s first child, Natalia, and its intent was to provide for the support of Vanessa and all of the couple’s children following Kobe’s death. As evidence of this intent, the petition points out the fact that Kobe amended the trust to add daughters Gianna and Bianka after they were born.

Although it’s likely the court will agree to the trust’s modification to include Capri, the fact remains that Kobe and his legal team made a major error by not updating his plan immediately following her birth. This mistake has undoubtedly cost Vanessa not only hefty sums of money in lawyer fees and court costs, but it also eliminated the trust’s biggest benefits by failing to keep Kobe’s surviving family members out of court and conflict, as well as exposing the estate’s details to the public.

And the most unfortunate part of the whole situation is just how easily this oversight could have been avoided.

Stay up to date

It’s a popular myth that estate planning is simply a matter of creating the proper documents, filing those documents away for safekeeping, and only revisiting them upon the creator’s incapacity or death. However, this is far from the truth. Indeed, this oversight by Kobe’s lawyers illustrates why most plans—even those created by multi-millionaires—fail to keep families out of court and out of conflict when it’s too late. And though Kobe’s family can easily absorb these costs, your family probably can’t without significant impact.

As Kobe’s case shows, even the most well-intentioned plan can prove ineffective if it’s not regularly updated. Estate planning is not a one-and-done type of deal—your plan must continuously evolve to keep pace with changes in your family structure, the legal landscape, your assets, and your life goals.

And unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time. In fact, outside of not creating any estate plan at all, one of the most common planning mistakes we encounter is when we get called by the loved ones of someone who has become incapacitated or died with a plan that no longer works because it hasn’t been updated. Yet, by the time they contact us, it’s too late.

We recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date, and immediately modify your plan following events like births, deaths, divorce, and inheritances. We have built-in systems and processes to ensure your plan is always up to date, so you won’t need to worry about forgetting anything.

Mapping your assets

You should also create—and regularly update—an inventory of all your assets, including digital property like cryptocurrency, photos, videos, and social media accounts. By doing this, your family will know what you have and how to find everything if something happens to you, and none of your assets will end up in our state’s Department of Unclaimed Property.

We will not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, we’ll make sure it stays regularly updated throughout your lifetime. And with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, creating such an inventory is something you should take care of immediately.

In fact, this task is so urgent, we’ve created a unique (and totally FREE) tool called a Personal Resource Map to help you get the inventory process started right now, by yourself, without the need for a lawyer. To learn more, visit Personal Resource Map, which will help you create an inventory of everything you own to ensure your loved one’s know what you have, where it is, and how to access it if something happens to you.

As Kobe’s sad story illustrates, death and illness can strike at any time, and even the most extensive estate plan can fail without the proper systems in place to keep it updated. To ensure your plan works exactly as intended for the ones you love most, contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, today to review and update your current plan, or create one if you have yet to do so.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

If you have a blended family (with kids from a prior marriage or relationship) and do not plan for what happens to your assets in the event of your incapacity or eventual death, you are almost certainly guaranteeing hurt feelings, conflict, and maybe even a long, drawn out court battle.

So let’s start with clarity around what a blended family is and whether you have one. If you have stepchildren, or children from a prior marriage, or other people you consider “kin” who are not considered legal relatives in the eyes of the law, you’ve got a blended family.

Bottom line: if you have a blended family, you need an estate plan, and not just a will you created for yourself online, or a trust that isn’t very intentionally designed to keep your family out of court and out of conflict. Period. End of story. Unless you are okay with setting your loved ones up for unnecessary heartache, confusion, and pain when something happens to you. 

What Will the Law Do?

Blended Families, once considered “non-traditional” families are swiftly becoming the norm. Currently 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a stepkin relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage. Thus, while this really is no longer “non-traditional” our laws about what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on the model of two people who get married, have kids together, and then die married.

Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die, and the laws of the state where you become incapacitated or die may or may not match your wishes.

For example, in Colorado, if you are survived by a spouse, your surviving spouse would only receive a part of your estate if you have living children (or parents!), and your living children or parents would receive the rest. And the amount your spouse receives is variable based on the number and ages of your children.

In Alaska, if you have joint children then everything goes to the surviving spouse, but if there are children of only one spouse then the children will inherit at the first death.

In contrast, in California, all community property assets would go to your surviving spouse, and separate property assets would be distributed partially to a surviving spouse and partially to children, if living, in amounts depending on the number of surviving children.

In Texas, it can get very complex, depending on whether your assets are separate or community, and whether you have children from the marriage, no children from the marriage or living parents or siblings.

These are examples to show you that where you die, and what’s true when you die, may not result in the outcome you want for your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family situation.

So, here’s what you do to make sure that things do go the way you want: call us and schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session. While the session is normally $750, if you do some homework ahead of time (homework that’s going to make sure your family can find everything you have if and when you become incapacitated or die), we’ll waive the Life & Legacy Planning Session fee for you, and spend two hours getting to know you, your family dynamics, and your assets, and teach you about the law here in Alaska and how it would impact your family and your assets in the event of your incapacity or death, so you can ensure that things go the way you want for the people you love.

Even within “traditional” families, aka married parents with families, I want to emphasize that having a full plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones. However, with “blended” families, carefully considered estate plans are, as you can see, even more vital to avoid massive misunderstanding and conflict, and having your assets tied up in court instead of going to the people you want to receive them.

Disputes Between Spouse and Children from Previous Marriage

One of the most common problems that arises in a blended family is that the deceased’s children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. This is sadly common.

When you’re considering all of these factors for the people you love, it’s important to have a Personal Family Lawyer® who can help you look at the reality of what will happen if you become incapacitated or when you die. With the complexities of modern families, it’s better to know than to leave it to the law or a court to provide. That way, not only do the people you love get the assets that you want them to receive, but you may also be saving them from years of legal conflict. Just give us a call and we’ll help you review your options.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Many people come to us curious (or confused) about trusts and taxes. So today’s article is going to sort it out and clarify things for you.

There are two types of trusts, and each have different tax consequences.

Revocable trusts, which are the far more commonly used trusts, have no tax consequences whatsoever. A revocable trust has your social security number as it’s tax identifier, and is not a separate entity from you for tax purposes. It is a separate entity from you for purposes of probate, meaning if you become incapacitated or die your Trustee can take over without a court order, keeping your family out of court. But, until your death, it’s treated as invisible from a tax perspective. At the time of your death, if your revocable trust provides for the creation of irrevocable trusts, then the tax implications will shift.

When you have an irrevocable trust, either created during life, at death through a revocable living trust, or through a will that creates a trust, that trust has its own EIN, or employer identification number (also called a TIN or taxpayer identification number). Generally, it pays income taxes on income earned by the trust, as if it’s a separate tax paying entity.

Trust income is taxed at the highest tax bracket applicable to individuals as soon as there is over $12,950 of income. However, in some cases a trust can be drafted to provide that the tax consequences pass through to the beneficiary, and thus that income is taxed at his or her tax rate. We will often do this when creating a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust for a beneficiary, so that the trust can provide the benefits of credit protection from lawsuits, divorce, or even bankruptcy, but not have the negative tax consequence of the highest tax rates on very little income.

If you have a trust, and you want us to review it for the income tax consequences to your loved ones after your death, please contact us.

Now, let’s talk about estate taxes. Currently, if you die with assets over $11.58M, then your estate will be subject to estate tax on all amounts over that $11.58M at the rate of 40%. Yep, 40% will go to the government. You can mitigate these taxes, or even eliminate them by using various planning methods, most of which are fairly complex, but worth it if you can save your family that 40% estate tax. It is unlikely that you have any concern about paying estate tax right now, because you probably do not have over $11.58M in assets. However, that threshold limit is a number that changes with different administrations and it is likely to come back down.

If you are trying to figure out whether an irrevocable trust, or a revocable trust, or even a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust is best for you and your beneficiaries, we, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, can help you weigh that decision and make the right choice for yourself and the people you love.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Learning Issue Spotting

In law school we spend a lot of time reading fact patterns to identify the legal issues involved. In torts class (where we study civil legal causes of action such as negligence, assault, and defective products) we might read about someone who gets a flat tire on their way to work. It is the same flat tire that was just fixed by the local mechanic. During their lunch break they call and yell at the local mechanic and threaten to beat them up if they do not fix the tire again – right this time! After the call, they buy gluten free soup only to find out later that it contained gluten. This made them very upset. Then they tell their co-workers how bad the mechanic is, and go a step further and place their opinion on a giant billboard and in all the local newspapers…and so on.

That was a pretty horrible example, but we would read a fact pattern along these lines (people have really tough days in law school fact patterns) and be tasked to identify where there could be a “legal cause of action” – in other words, where is there a potential lawsuit, also called issue spotting.

To truly determine where there would actually be potential to sue, we would need a lot more information than this fact pattern involves. We would ask questions and gather data to determine if the legal requirements are met. We must know the legal causes of action to know what questions to ask.

In other words, we need both information (the facts) AND the legal understanding. Only by knowing that negligence requires that there be a duty to act in a certain way towards another, then that the duty is breached, and that there are damages caused by the breach, could an attorney know the right questions to ask and the right information to gather. The person in the fact pattern above might be upset about soup with gluten, but if it doesn’t cause measurable harm then there is no basis to sue.

How it applies to my estate planning process

As an estate planning attorney, I do this same work of issue spotting. I bring my legal knowledge to the table as I meet with clients initially, but then need to spend time learning from them, using that legal knowledge to guide my questions.

Before we can work together, potential clients are asked to fill out extensive information about their interests, values, assets, and family. (And rarely would I meet with someone who didn’t do this carefully). Then, we meet and I find out even more information about you and your family dynamics. Only with ALL of this information am I prepared to explain what would happen upon your death if you do no [additional] planning.

Once you understand what would likely happen, then you can share what, if anything, you don’t like – and from there I can explain options to control the circumstances in the event of your death. Additionally, because I have background information and am starting to know and understand you better, I can explain other options that might be of interest to you without overwhelming you with the endless possibilities that are irrelevant to you.

What’s this about a $50 will?

I was recently asked by an employer organization (they provide legal benefits to the employees of different companies) to do a ‘Simple Will’ for one of their members for $50. There was some provision that if I looked at his ‘questionnaire’ that they provided him, I could decide that a ‘Simple Will’ was not appropriate and work with him at a discount off of my normal rate.

I asked what a ‘Simple Will’ was and informed them that I could not imagine doing a will for $50 – for anyone, but they had already told me that this individual owned multiple properties and had enough resources to make the legal process of probate complicated upon his death.

They never got back to me, but this has gotten me thinking about what they possibly could have wanted me to do. My guess is that they sent him a form asking what he wanted, presumably who he wanted to give assets to and whom he wanted as personal representative/executor, and they must have expected me to create a simple fill-in-the-blanks will for him, probably without EVER even speaking to him. In fact, for $50, I suspect that any attorney willing to do it isn’t even looking at the questionnaire, but rather asking staff to create the document.

To do this, in my mind, would amount to malpractice.

Let me just be clear for a moment that I do provide Pro Bono legal services, in other words, free legal services for those who cannot afford my fees. I treat these cases the same I would a paying client, spending time to get to know them and their circumstances so that they have a plan that will work for them.

But that was not the request.

Why would I be unwilling to take his word for what he wanted based on a questionnaire? Because I have no information that he understands the consequences of what would happen upon his death based on what he wrote on the questionnaire. I do not know what is important to him. I do not know that he has considered various options and determined this meets his needs. I do not know if he has planned for a period of incapacity. I would not have enough information to do my job correctly.

It may be that he has researched this information extensively and knows exactly what he wants and wishes to take advantage of this workplace program to complete his will rather than using drafting software for a few hundred dollars online. But this is unlikely, and I am unwilling to take the risk.

Do you want to learn more, to schedule a meeting, and even to learn how you can get this initial planning meeting for free? Schedule a time for Liz to call you here, email Liz@lizsmithlaw.com, or call us at 907-312-5436.

There’s nothing like a major change in the economic climate to make you rethink your day job. “Business as usual” currently means a large element of uncertainty about what the future holds for your working life. Whether you’ve lost your job, had your hours cut, or have seen these things happen to people you know, your feeling of security has likely taken a hit. And, maybe that can be a good thing, something that calls you to start taking action.

Last week, I talked about how now is the perfect time for you to look at  all the resources available to you, and to consider what you can do to serve the world with under-utilized gifts, skills, and talents. By doing this, you have the potential to take full control over your income, and your family’s long-term security.

You also may have noticed a growing trend that existed even before the coronavirus pandemic hit—more and more people are opting out of the traditional 9 to 5 and becoming “solopreneurs,” either by becoming a freelancer or starting a business.

As a freelancer, you would draw on the talents you’ve used as an employee, or even other skills you’ve developed outside the scope of your day job, to help support other people’s businesses. And, once you see it going well, you may decide to start a business of your own.

There are unlimited possibilities, and the way we live and work in today’s world means there’s never been a better time to get started. Here’s why.

We Have the Technology

For a solopreneur, working from home is the norm, and software companies are only helping that trend along. New tech tools exist that make it easier and easier for people to use their own computers for what would normally be done in an office environment. There are as many project management tools, to do lists, calendar apps, cloud storage tools, and industry-specific software programs, as there are preferred ways of doing work. A lot of these tools have free options, and you can scale up your technology according to how much your business is growing.

Plus, as we become more connected digitally, it’s quicker and easier to coordinate teams online. That means you can coordinate with your clients and contractors to have meetings, share documents, and pay and get paid more easily.

Be True to Yourself

There are plenty of reasons to shift from being an employee to being your own boss. It’s impossible to completely agree with the way someone does business. Sometimes that just has to do with paid time off policies, or just not hitting it off with the person in the cubicle next to yours. But sometimes it has to do with larger issues than that. Maybe you just don’t want to work somewhere that you don’t feel in sync with the mission.

When you work for yourself, you have the freedom to choose who you work with, and what values you choose to uphold. And chances are, when you’re doing work you care about, you’ll be a whole lot happier.

Live the Life You Want

Another reason to be your own boss is to increase your flexibility. When you manage your own schedule, you don’t need someone else’s permission to go pick up your kids from school, workout in the middle of the day, or work on a project in the evening rather than the middle of the afternoon. You don’t have to worry about someone standing over your shoulder and dictating how you should approach a project you’re working on.

In the same way that more technical tools are emerging to meet the new economy, so are new modes of health care. Medical, dental, and other individualized and family plans just for gig workers are becoming common. Whereas it used to be very expensive and difficult for independent contractors to get affordable insurance, the barriers are starting to lower.

Scale Your Income

On one hand, the idea of not having a steady paycheck could be nerve-wracking. But on the other, it could open doors to greater wealth and full control, when you’ve made the transition from employee to freelancer or even business owner, wisely. When you work for yourself, you are no longer limited to earning the amount of money that your company says you should. You can raise your rates as your value increases in the marketplace. You can work more hours, or less. You can charge fees that make sense to you and that your best clients will be happy to pay. As you learn more, and your contracting skills and confidence grow, you’ll realize that you’re the only one who can limit the amount of money you make.

A steady job is not necessarily a sure thing. If you’re in a place of transition with your life and career, it could be the right time to take the leap and begin working for yourself, and then even becoming the boss you always wish you had. Just make sure you consult a trusted legal professional before you make your final decision. We’re happy to help lay out everything that you need to consider when you want to go solo.

This article is a service of Elizabeth J. Smith, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Maybe you, like many of us, have been raised to think that the safest way to live in the working world is to have a good career and a steady paycheck. This financial crisis is challenging that framework for many people. Even if you had a steady job, and even if you still have one, by now you’ve learned how easy it is for that security to disappear overnight.

A recession can reveal all of our negative thoughts and internal monologues about money. A sad, yet common, attitude is for us to see money as a scarce resource, and income as something that’s outside of our control. Thinking or talking about money can trigger feelings of guilt and shame in many people.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The truth is, money is a tool that you can access and multiply, independent of anyone else’s permission. And even if you do have anxieties that keep you from seeing how money can be a positive part of your life, that can change.

Other people may react to this period of uncertainty with the same, old-fashioned advice: live within your means and keep 3–6 months’ worth of income in an emergency fund. If you have a secure job that pays you well, and that you enjoy, this is great advice. But, if that’s not what is true for you, you may be looking at this time as a great opportunity to make a shift and create your own financial security.

Consider this: what if you weren’t relying on a check from your boss (or the unemployment office, as the case may be)?

What if a shift in mindset could change your relationship with money, and set you on track to secure you against economic highs and lows in a way you never even dreamed possible? Or, maybe you have been dreaming about it, but don’t know how or where to start to move it all forward.

A financial crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis for you or your family. In fact, this could be the perfect time to access the wealth of resources currently available to fund your next level of growth. It’s a time to invest in yourself, and to learn to use your gifts, skills, and talents to serve others in a big way. That way, you won’t have to depend on anyone else, including your job, corporations, or the government, to sustain you.

Whether or not you have a day job, see this moment as a wake-up call. It’s time for you to take stock of your greatest resource—yourself. What can you do that other people can’t? What can you give that other people need? Start exploring the resources within you, and you’ll realize that you’ve found your way of contributing value to the world.

Everyone has something to offer, and that offering goes far beyond just the products or services you give your potential clients. If you use your talents to become a higher earner, you can establish yourself as a leader in your community, and affect change in areas that you care about. You can contribute to the growth of your local economy by employing people, and be part of what helps pull the larger economy out of the rut that it may be in.

Even in the lowest of times, even in recessions, there have been many, many people who were able to forge their own paths and grow their wealth through entrepreneurship. You can be one of them.

Things have been tough for our lives and livelihoods, it’s true, but we shouldn’t let this moment go by without considering what we can learn from it. I hope that you are learning about how to be prepared for an emergency when it comes to your savings, investments, and income, but not necessarily in the way we’ve been taught in the past.

As we go into this brave new world, the most important thing you can have is a high-value skill that is needed and wanted, no matter what. The next step is to create the systems and structures to offer that skill in a way that you can rely upon, no matter the ups and downs of the economy. This is a lesson that will benefit you, and that you can encourage in your family and friends, and serve as an example for your children—raising a new generation of economic and community leaders.

We are in a time when your best investment is in your resourcefulness, and your creativity, and your community. Bring these together, and your family can rely on you and what you’ve created, and you can trust that your children will be great, no matter what.

If you need help figuring out your next step, please call us, and we can help.