Joel Beck, a former NASD Department of Enforcement lawyer, formed The Beck Law Firm, LLC in 2007. Joel's practices focuses on three main areas: 1) broker-dealer and registered investment adviser regulation/compliance, regulatory investigations and enforcement actions, and arbitration cases, 2) business formations and small business legal needs, and 3) basic estate planning.
The Beck Law Firm, LLC and Joel Beck, the author of this blog, provide this material for informational purposes only. While we believe the content to be accurate, we make no guarantee to that effect. Use of this blog does not create an attorney/client relationship and The Beck Law Firm, LLC does not represent you unless and until we have entered into a written representation agreement. The hiring of an attorney is an important decision and should not be based upon advertisements, including websites and blogs. Please contact us for additional information about our qualifications before making a decision.
The original works appearing on this page are the intellectual property of Joel Beck and The Beck Law Firm, LLC. Copyright 2007-2014.
Some questions we often get are how often should I review my will? What about my other planning documents - when do they need to be reviewed? Do my documents need to be updated periodically?
In this short video, Joel Beck answers these questions and more, helping you understand how often to review your planning documents, and discusses some common events that should lead you to do a special review.
If your son or daughter recently graduated from high school, congratulations! Now that we've wrapped up the high school graduation ceremonies, plans are being made furiously to get ready to go off to college, to technical school, or to start a career. Don't forget your student's basic estate planning needs, especially the power of attorney and the Georgia advance directive for healthcare now that your students are adults.
In this short video, attorney Joel Beck discusses why these documents are important to your college student.
As part of your basic estate planning documents, you should consider preparing an Advance Directive for Healthcare. This document allows you to appoint a healthcare agent – a person who can act for you if you are incapacitated – and provides that agent and your medical providers with your treatment preferences. Here's a high-level overview of this document and its purpose.
What is an ADH? Georgia’s Advance Directive for Healthcare (“ADH”), created by legislation that became effective in 2007, combines the provisions of a living will and a durable power of attorney for healthcare. The ADH allows you to designate someone to serve as a healthcare agent and provides that agent with your treatment preferences, such as whether to be kept alive by artificial means, whether to receive nutrition by tubes, or whether to be allowed to die a natural death. The ADH grants the healthcare agent with the powers to admit or discharge you from treatment, request or consent to any type of care, and to contract for the provision of medical services and care, obligating you to be responsible for payment of those services. Importantly, the healthcare agent only has authority to act if you are not able to make decisions for yourself, or, if you choose to have the agent make decisions on your behalf. Note that the ADH does not apply to mental or emotional illness or to treatment for an addictive disease. Importantly, the ADH provides the opportunity for you to designate a back-up healthcare agent (or two), in case the first is unable or unwilling to act in this important role.
Finally, the ADH also allows for the appointment of a designated guardian over the patient, should a court determine that a guardian is necessary. You may designate your healthcare agent, or someone else, to be appointed as guardian if such an appointment should become necessary.
Can a marriage/divorce change my ADH? Yes, changes in your marital status might result in portions of your ADH not being valid. For example, if you become married after completing the ADH, your selection of a healthcare agent is not valid, unless the agent selected is your new spouse. And, if you become divorced after completing the ADH, the ex-spouse is no longer qualified to be your healthcare agent.
How is an ADH executed? The ADH must be executed with some formality, like a will. Under Georgia law, the ADH must be signed by the person making the ADH, and by two witnesses. It does not need to be notarized. The person executing (completing) the ADH must have the capacity to do so. To put it simply, this means that he has the mental ability to understand the decisions he is making and has the legal ability to execute the ADH.
Why prepare an ADH? If you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself, the ADH provides a designated person that you have chosen to make those decisions, as opposed to a person appointed by a court. And, by providing your treatment preferences, you assure your agent, and your family members, that you have considered these issues and reached a decision as to how you want to be treated, and communicate those wishes through the ADH. Hopefully, that may relieve some of the stress and pressure from the situation, and not cause the agent to “guess” how you want to be treated.
What else might I want to know? This overview has provided some basic information about the Georgia ADH and is a good start toward understanding this important planning document. If you have questions about the ADH and whether you need one, or if yours has been completed properly, please consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer for assistance. Finally, like other legal documents, you should review your ADH from time to time to make sure that it still reflects your wishes, and that it is still valid if you’ve married, divorced, or had other lifestyle changes.
Is that all there is? The ADH is just one of the documents usually completed as part of an estate planning process for individuals in Georgia. Other basic documents include a Last Will and Testament as well as a Durable Power of Attorney. If you have questions about your estate planning needs, please contact us - we'd be happy to speak with you.
This week I had the honor of being a guest on Gwinnett Business Radio to speak with hosts Mike Sammond and Steven Julian. We discussed some ways small business owners can help reduce disputes with clients, what they need to focus on in terms of maintaining their business entity, and talked about how lawyers add value to the business formation stage of a company, among other things. We also spoke about basic estate planning and chatted about the common planning documents that most Georgians need to have completed properly for their estate plan, as well as some of the possible problems that can come about from DIY estate planning.
I think the show went well and provided some good information for small business owners, as well as folks with some basic questions about estate planning. It was a great time, and I thank Mike and Steven for having me.
I've been told by many folks that they have not done their estate planning because it is "too hard" or that they are confused or uneducated about what really needs to be done. Some folks have also told me over the years that they think it is too expensive, largely, I believe, because they are focusing on some estate planning tools that likely are not necessary, or appropriate, for their situation. The good news is that estate planning doesn't have to be hard. Over the next few posts in this subject area, I'm going to address the three main planning documents that everyone needs to have in place. Today, I'll start with an overview of wills in Georgia.
A Will, also called a Last Will and Testament, simply lists property that you own, and how you want to distribute it upon your death. The property that may be distributed under the will may include real estate, automobiles, jewelry, art, and other personal property, as well as money, stocks and bonds, etc. Certain property, such as real estate or financial accounts held jointly with another individual, or brokerage accounts and insurance policies that have a designated beneficiary are typically not distributed through the will.
The will should also make arrangements for minor children if no other custodial parent survives, and should designate a guardian to care for the children and a trustee to manage the children’s property until they reach the age of majority (at least). Many parents choose to hold property for their minor children in a trust (that is a part of the will) until the children reach a certain age, or to release it in stages (such as 1/3 at 21, 1/3 at 25, and the final amount at 30) so that their children do not squander the assets they receive, and to ensure that the children receive the assets at a time when they are mature enough to manage them.
Under Georgia law, any person 14 years of age or older, with the capacity to make a will may do so. Capacity is generally defined as being able to make rational decisions as to the disposition of property. The testator (meaning the person making the will) and two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the will (or who serve in a capacity under the will) shall sign the will. Its also wise to have the testator and the two witnesses sign an affidavit before a Notary Public attesting that they each signed the will, that the testator declared the will to be his or her will, and it was his or her intention that it be the will. This affidavit is then attached to the will, and, when filed for probate upon the testator’s death, will permit the will to be admitted to probate without the testimony of one of the witnesses.
Its also important that you review your will periodically to ensure that it continues to reflect your wishes, and that your situation has not changed in a way that renders the will void. For example, the birth or adoption of a child will render your will invalid, unless the will expressly provides that it is to be valid in such a circumstance. Likewise, getting married also invalidates the will, as does obliterating or destroying the will itself (such as attempting to make written changes to it or marking out a section).
As a final note, Georgia also has a unique law that provides for a year’s support for a deceased person’s spouse and minor children, whether the deceased had a will or not. Under this statute, a spouse and minor children may receive an award of property or money equal to a year’s support. This distribution takes precedence over all other debts, except secured debts.
The process to complete a will is not difficult. We walk our clients through a comprehensive questionnaire to understand their situation, their dreams and objectives, and help them make key decisions to determine how to dispose of property at their death, and how to make sure that their minor-aged or young adult children are appropriately provided for. We can do this with relatively little time required from the client, and the fees are affordable. If you’ve put off your basic estate planning, now’s the time to get it done. Contact us today to discuss your situation. The Beck Law Firm, LLC: Because estate planning doesn't have to be hard.
Coming soon: check back for future posts including an overview of the Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare as well as an overview of the Durable Power of Attorney.
Whenever I work with a client on estate planning issues, my tendency is to keep things as simple as possible. If the client doesn't need any complex planning, then we don't do it. And, in my practice, rarely does a client actually have such a need. The result is a more streamlined planning process that is easier on the client, and the client's wallet.
It seems that Sandra Block from Kiplinger's magazine (June 2013) just might agree with me. In her article, Why You Don't Need a Living Trust, Block points out several reasons that living trusts might not be what someone needs, and that there might be lower-cost alternatives that will achieve the same objective. Among the points she notes are that not all assets go through probate and probate doesn't have to be complicated, you have to move assets into the trust for the trust to be effective, and there can be some unforeseen consequences if it is not done correctly.
There may be some valid reasons for utilizing more advanced planning tools like living trusts and other documents, but you should certainly consult with a lawyer about your needs and concerns to help determine what is actually needed, and what the benefits, and drawbacks, of different planning tools would be in your situation.
You're invited! Join us on March 5th for a complimentary workshop via teleconference and webinar on Understanding Basic Estate Planning in Georgia. Watch the short video above to get the details, and then go to this page to register today.
This is for folks who have questions about estate planning for themselves and/or their family, as well as a great refresher for financial advisors and brokers who want to get an update on some common planning tools, and an update on recent tax law changes. The workshop is free, but you must register to attend.
Joel Beck of The Beck Law Firm, LLC, Lawrenceville, Georgia, will be presenting a webinar/teleconference on March 5th on understanding basic estate planning in Georgia.
This workshop will be offered twice on March 5th, first at 4PM and again at 7PM. Each session will cover the same material and will be about 30 minutes.
During this workshop you can learn about the basics of estate planning in Georgia. We'll talk about wills, testamentary trusts, advance directives for healthcare and powers of attorney, and a few other planning tools. Joel Beck will also discuss recent changes to the federal estate tax laws that were passed as part of the "fiscal cliff" legislation by Congress at the start of the year. It is appropriate for individuals and couples who are interested in estate planning for themselves, as well as for financial advisors who need to get a refresher on common planning tools in Georgia.
Parents of minor-aged children will also learn about how to plan for their children if a "what if?" type situation occurs.
When Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 last week to resolve the so-called fiscal cliff, they made some significant changes to the estate tax system that will greatly benefit a majority of Americans.
Under the existing law, the estate tax exemption (the unified credit) was set to automatically drop from about $5 Million in 2012 to $1 Million in 2013, and the tax rate on estates greater than $1 Million would have increased as well to a maximum tax rate of about 55%, if my memory is correct. An exemption of only one million would have ensnared many Americans, as it doesn't take much - a house, some life insurance, and some modest retirement and savings - to exceed that amount.
Now, based on this new legislation, the exemption (the unified credit) is pegged at $5 Million, indexed to inflation (so this year will likely be around $5.25 million or so), and the estate tax is set at 40%.
There are some other good developments in this legislation for estate tax issues. First, the change is permanent, or at least until other legislation is passed to change it. This is significant because the last few changes had sunset provisions ending the law and requiring Congress to do something. Second, the unified credits (the exemptions) are portable among spouses. So, the portion of the unified credit that is not used by the spouse that dies first, can be added to the credit for the second spouse if properly elected by the executors. This means that more people will be suitable for basic estate planning tools given the larger, and portable, credits.
We help brokers and advisers across the country with their federal securities regulatory matters. To discuss your situation, contact Joel Beck at The Beck Law Firm. (678) 344-5342 or send an email to info @ thebeckfirm.com (Don't send any confidential information until we request it, and understand that the firm does not represent you until a written engagement agreement is signed).