A Letter from Carmine Trombetta
I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020. January is a time for new beginnings. We make resolutions and set goals we hope to achieve throughout the year. It is a time for reflection and action. In planning for your future, there are steps that should be taken by everyone in order to make this year a fruitful and joyous one. From a legal standpoint, one should take steps to put their affairs in order.
First, each person should make sure that they have their estate in order and a plan for the transfer of assets in the unfortunate event of your death. In the event of your death, your family and loved ones will be suffering a great deal of agony and turmoil from your absence. Don’t compound the tragedy because you didn’t take action to prepare for such an occurrence. Everyone should have a will and a power of attorney for healthcare decisions, regardless if you have a substantial estate or a small one. If you have a vast estate, a living trust or a family corporation may best serve your needs. The cost of preparing for such can run $2,000 and up, depending upon the level of sophistication and the nature and the number of assets that need to be transferred to said living trust or family corporation. Should your estate be smaller but you own property, you may consider placing your home and other real estate holdings into a land trust which would also provide an easy transfer of these assets to your loved ones. A trust lets your loved ones avoid the stress, delays, complications, and expense of probate court.
You can also add a provision to all your savings accounts, certificates of deposit, brokerage accounts that provide for the transfer of those accounts to your loved ones upon your death. These used to be referred to as “Totten Trusts”. These provisions are sometimes referred to as “payable on death” clauses. You maintain full control of your assets while you are alive and are not subject to any of your beneficiary' creditors. The assets will be transferred to your loved ones immediately upon your death. Also make sure that you update all insurance policy, IRA, and 401k accounts as to whom you designate as contingent beneficiaries. Should you have minor children, make sure your will provides for whom you wish to raise your children in the event you and your spouse both should pass within a short time of one another. In addition name a guardian and trustee to manage the assets that would go to your minor children. It can be the same person or different people.
With the aging of the “baby boomer” generation and continual medical advancements, more people are finding themselves having to deal with the needs of their parents and grandparents. It is important to have your family members prepare a plan and the documentation necessary to provide for their care as their health and mental capacity diminishes. I have seen how many families go through so much stress and turmoil that can occur when siblings begin to argue over how their parents should be treated. It is best for the parents to clearly express their desires and choices as to whom and how they should be cared for if and when the time comes that they can no longer care or make decisions for themselves.
Most attorneys I am familiar with do not charge an exorbitant fee to have a consultation with them to help assess what your needs are and what should be addressed in preparing a strategy for your estate or your parent's estate, no matter how large or small that estate may be at the time.
Secondly, everyone should assess their financial health in order to set a strategy for this year. We are well aware that we can create wealth by increasing our revenue, but many fail to understand that they can create wealth also by reducing their debts and liabilities. Take an honest review of your liabilities and create a plan to reduce your debts. You may be able to transfer debts from higher interest rate instruments to lower interest rate instruments (credit cards, payday loans, etc.). Consider whether you may be better off taking out a personal loan or refinancing a mortgage to eliminate the higher interest rate instruments. Sell some assets that are not producing revenue or are not of sentimental value and use the proceeds to reduce the debts. In some households, the amount of debt becomes so overwhelming that people become paralyzed. Seeking the advice of trained professionals such as attorneys, accountants, and financial advisers, to help you devise a plan to get your financial health in order can be a lifesaver. You should not go into your retirement plans without first consulting with these professionals. There have been countless occasions in which clients sought my advice after depleting most if not all of their retirement plans and then been forced to file bankruptcy, not realizing that their retirement plans could have been protected. The remedies of the bankruptcy code may provide the best strategy to get one's financial health in order and provide a fresh new beginning.
Thirdly, assess your personal situation to determine whether you have exposure to civil litigation and/or criminal prosecution. Is your driver’s license suspended? If so, see what you can do to clear your license before you are stopped and avoid the cost and headache of dealing with the consequences. If you are a landlord, seek the advice of an attorney to determine your rights and remedies before you resort to self-help in the event you have an undesirable tenant. Sound legal advice may save you thousands of dollars.
If you have an existing business, make sure you are in compliance with all rules and regulations in your industry. Seek the advice of professionals to find out if you have alternative ways of structuring your business and changing your practice in order to become more profitable and reduce your exposure to litigation. Should you be planning to start a new business, determine which structure works best for you, i.e, corporation, limited liability company, joint venture, partnerships, etc. Determine the licensing requirements for the type of business you are considering to commence and how to protect your personal assets from the liabilities of the business.
I could go on and on with many different scenarios that we deal with daily. It is important to seek the advice of professionals who are knowledgeable in their fields and that can help you succeed in your endeavors. The costs of said advice may be minuscule compared to the peace of mind you receive. After all, Benjamin Franklin said it best, “an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.”