Wednesday, October 15, 2014

There Still Hasn't Been a Will Reading. What Gives!


So you have a loved one who died and there still hasn't been a will reading. In Minnesota, our probate code has no chapter, no rule about will readings. Sitting family members down to hear final wishes isn't required or even governed by laws, in the state of Minnesota.

So how do you know what's in a will, or even if there is one? Wills govern what happens and who controls property that doesn't automatically transfer to other people like life insurance or jointly owned property would. You'll need a probate process to transfer these "stuck" assets. That's where a will comes in. The will says where things should go and who manages those assets.

In Minnesota, next of kin are required to receive notice of probate proceedings if the probate asset includes real estate or is larger than $50,000.00. The next of kin can then find out if a will exists and what it says.

Will readings. They make for dramatic scenes in movies and TV. But, they're just not required or even common in the state of Minnesota.

(photo credit: Thanks for allowing creative commons 2.0 use of your pic!)

Friday, October 3, 2014

10 Things My Husband Learned From His Father's Death (so far)

My much beloved father-in-law died suddenly and unexpected a few weeks ago. As I shared on my personal facebook page, I was a daddy's girl who lost her gregarious father at 14. At 21, I met my father-in-law who, if I couldn't have my dad, well he was the next best thing. The separation and shock, like every loss of a loved one, is indescribably tough.
My husband put this together a few days ago and all of these non-legal lessons are just as important as all the stuff we lawyers learn in our wills and trusts classes. Here's a republication of what he wrote.
As I'm processing my father's way too early passing, I thought I'd share some of the lessons I learned. If these are useful to anyone, I can at least find some additional purpose in all this.
1. Know your final wishes. Know the final wishes of your loved ones. I am so relieved my mom and I knew what my dad had in mind for his funeral. Nothing was written down, but just weeks before he died, my parents were on their way back from my uncle's funeral and happened to discuss their own ideas. If it wasn't for that conversation, my mom and I would have had a major headache on our hands last week.
2. Don't put off conversations about death until you're old or your loved ones are old. My dad was ripped out of our midst at 66. No one saw it coming, including him. My goal is for Jen and I to have things discussed by the end of the year. This includes simple things, such as "Would you be able to handle finances after I'm gone?", "Would you know all our passwords?", "Would you know where to find our will?", "Would you know what home/car maintenance is coming up?", "Would you know how to get a hold of key family members and friends?", "When is the kids' next check-up?", etc. Simple things that could turn into big problems, if you have to start from scratch.
3. Don't be strong for anyone. The advice to be strong after your dad dies is not always fitting. My dad died. I don't want to be strong. I want to cry and let out my emotions, too. Sure, my mom and I are leaning on each other for strength, but we each grieve differently and should each be able to not have to worry about how the other expresses it. Truth be told, it probably won't really hit either one of us until I return to the U.S., which will be the real beginning of the new normal.
4. Lean on your support system. My mom and I are fortunate to have a massive support system in place, thanks to family and a huge circle of friends. Many are offering to help in different ways... to listen, to take care of certain paperwork, to help haul stuff, to cook meals. Take advantage of it and don't be shy to ask for help. It also lets the person offering the help grieve in their own way. 
5. Take pictures of your loved ones. My mom and I had to pick a picture of my dad to be put up next to the urn at the funeral service. Thanks to our photo-happy family, this was easy to do, but from now on I'll always have a pic or two in mind in advance. Do you?
6. Let people know where you are. In my dad's case, my mom and I knew where he was. He was hiking on a marked trail and talked to my mom via cell phone just an hour before he was found. But he was alone. It's questionable if anything could have been done if anyone had been there. Even though knowing where my dad was and being able to reach him likely didn't make a difference, it could mean the difference between life and death for others.
7. Cherish every visit, every conversation. I last saw my dad when we came to Germany in May. I last talked to him the day before he died. I now regret that I was kind of short with him and suggested we chat more the next day, as Jen, the kids and I were about to go on a bike trip in Lanesboro. That next conversation never happened.
8. Show compassion. My dad was a master at this. He was able to build relationships with anybody. He put himself last and had a hard time saying no. I'm proud to have been carrying on that legacy already. But most importantly, this compassion will come back at you manifold in the situation my mom and are facing now. My dad cared about everybody, and now everybody is caring about us as a way of saying thank you.
9. Don't try to find all answers. Learn to live with the questions. My mom and I have been struggling with the big WHY. We don't know why my dad died or why it happened so early and suddenly. Even when we find out the official cause of death, we will likely never know why things played out the way they did. It's extremely hard to accept, but we know we have to. We try to focus on the happy memories and tuck away the what if's.
10. Grieve how you see fit, not how society might expect. My mom and I have talked a lot about how people might expect how we should grieve. Should we wear black? Can we watch TV? Can we laugh? Can we get groceries like normal? Should we act like nothing happened? We quickly realized that unless we shed ourselves of any societal pressures, the grieving process will only get more difficult. If we feel like laughing, we'll laugh. If we feel like watching a comedy show, we will. The point is only we know how to best process this horrible turn in our life. Advice from anybody should be taken with a grain of salt.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Is There a Tax on All Those Jeter Gifts?

News outlets are buzzing a bit about the gift tax consequences for all those gifts given to Derek Jeter during his farewell tour.

I'm a bit disappointed the articles didn't talk about those infamous gift baskets.

(H/T U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Friday, September 12, 2014

To Do, Hug Your Family

Last Friday, I was drafting a post to publish for Monday. On Sunday, we unexpectedly lost a much beloved family member. So, in light of that, the number one thing you should do to plan your estate? Hug your loved ones. Then talk to professionals to plan.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Cisco Shuffle. Or, Why I Called the Secretary of State


Why yes, I was grooving out to this hold music. So why is an estate planner/probater on hold with the Secretary of State's office? Well, it all started when I needed to do a UCC search. For the lawyers out there, you might be wondering why I'd be doing that since I don't do debtor/creditor law (for the non-lawyers out there, I don't help/fight the repo man).

However, there's a good reason why I'd need to be on there when it comes to dealing with an estate. It's pretty common for an estate to auction off the deceased's personal property. Running a UCC search for liens (which are like mortgages, but instead of a bank securing their loan through real estate, a creditor secures its loans through personal property), can help you, the auctioneer and the personal representative know that the items sold are clear of liens, which can crop up especially if the deceased owned a business.

Also, the Secretary of State's office was super helpful and quick with the answer. Which was great (not great if you have a strange addition to the Cisco Shuffle, but I don't).

(photo credit:
Thanks _Untitled-1 for allowing creative commons 2.0 use of your pic!)

Monday, August 18, 2014

What's in a Name?

After over six years of this blog, why the new name and redesign? When I first started this job, I was a brand new baby attorney working as a law clerk (attorney for judges... that's what my judges called us, so I'll happily use that definition), hoping to establish a probate practice once my clerk year was done. The blog was partly an excuse for me to dig into probate and estate law. Anyone who listens to me for any amount of time when it comes to "death law", knows I geek out about it and should console themselves with the notion that I have an outlet to get (most) of the geeky-ness out. Quite honestly, it's also a way to market myself. Even more honestly, at the time I started the blog I wanted to prove myself as a real-honest-to-goodness attorney. Hence the run of the mill design and even more run of the mill title and was stuck in the rut ever since. My stodginess was born by a fear of not being taken seriously.

Now that I have an established probate practice (heck, I've taught other estate planners how to plan estates that span the globe), I feel less like proving myself as attorney. More importantly, I've learned that "estate planning" is more than dropping some money to have an attorney create a will or a trust and thinking your affairs are in order. Estate planning isn't just a legal thing and just like managing your junk drawer, it isn't just a one time thing.

Hence the name: An Organized (after)Life. Estate planning is organizing (and continuing to organize) your affairs so that your loved ones can spend their time working through losing you and spend as little time as possible dealing with seeing a lawyer, going to court, organizing your documents, dealing with your creditors, planning your funeral, trying to see eye-to-eye with each other, etc. While not as fun to look at as an organized closet or color coded folders in a drawer (not only am I a law geek, but I think looking at an organized closet is fun!), it'll be one of the best gifts you can give to your loved ones. I hope my posts will get you to think about how your stuff should be organized. That your "after", after meeting with an attorney, pre-planning your funeral, working with a financial planner, works better than what it would have had you been hit by a bus "before" and that doing this doesn't become an "after"thought that gets put on the back burner until it doesn't get done at all. For me, organization takes folders, tags, post-its and color coordination, hence the non-esquire-esque/non-fancy-schmancy design.

I also have to admit that I've been influenced by other blogs. For a time I was the resident small town contributor to Lawyerist, a national law blog, where I was challenged to make posts authentic and interesting. I'm also taking inspiration from some unlikely sources for a "blawgger", home improvement blogs like, Young House Love, Manhatten Nest and It's Great to Be Home. Although these have been some go-to sites for lunch break perusing for a while now, it wasn't until recently that it occurred to me that the bloggers are personable, funny, honest... and still authoritative (or at least seem trustworthy about what they know). While wills and insurance and funeral plans may never be as exciting to look at as home renovations and design (honestly, I could stare at those design choices forever), if I can be as helpful (which I hope I have been) and a fraction as interesting (which I have assuredly not been) maybe I can steer more people to not let a fear of jinxing getting hit by a bus get in the way of taking control of their estate and (effectively) use professionals like attorneys, financial planners, accountants, etc. to properly organize their affairs. Thank you readers, for having enough interest to have been reading Minnesota Estate Planning and Probate when it was stodgy (click the link to see it in all its stodgy glory, but look in the archives on this blog for its content), and I hope you find the changes to be a fresh take on a boring (for many, but totally-not-for-me) topic.

(photo credit:
Thanks Emily Rose for allowing creative commons 2.0 use of your pic!)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Paper It! Or, Why It Matters to Have Business Certificates

Many people set up business entities for a variety of reasons, whether it's managing an entity that provides goods a services, planning for estate tax, limiting liability, or all of the above. The first step in setting up a business is to meet with an attorney to make sure you're meeting all the formalities to get the most protection for both the entity and your personal affairs.

A common step that is written out of the creation of many entities is a share or membership certificate. Many people, including attorneys think certificates (think a fancy piece of paper that looks like something Mr. Moneybags would have in a safe) are really only for the Wall Street big boys and not the mom and pop shops. It may seem old fashioned, but having a certificate is an important step to minimize the need for probate.

Why? You can list a payable on death designation on the certificate itself that says who receives your share upon your death. This makes your interests in the business automatically transfer without the need for probate. If you have a business, let your estate planner know so you can make sure it's ready to be properly addressed at your death.

(photo credit: 
Thanks Mike for allowing creative commons 2.0 use of your pic!)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Now Why Don't (s)He Write?

If you're a child of both the 90's and South Dakota, as I am, you might get that reference to Dances with Wolves. Back in November, I announced a two-month hiatus from blogging due to the impending birth of heir #2. Nine months (and only one measly post) later, I'm ready to dive back in. Yeah, so much for two months. I plead "harried working mom". A child who took eight months to learn to sleep through the night, pretty significant office(s) expansion, chasing a three year old, small town mayor duties, a trip for a wedding and a house sale/purchase/move, all while ensuring my clients were well cared for, left little extra time for the blawg.

Now that things have settled down a bit and I've had (count 'em) twelve full nights of sleep, I'm back. Not only look for the monthly posts you're used to, but an increase in content and a redesign of the site. The plan is to take the blog from a run of the mill blawg that looks and reads like you're walking into an attorney office, to something that tells and shows how to think about estate planning more like what it actually is, making things as organized for those you leave behind as what you try to do your yourself in life. Also, be on the lookout for a new name to something a bit less yawn inducing than "Minnesota Estate Planning and Probate".

In the meantime, feel free to peruse the archives and excuse the mess. You might see the look of the site alter a bit, but consider it a preview of things to come.

(photo credit:
Thanks Caninest for allowing creative commons 2.0 use of your pic!)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Do You Need a New Form Power of Attorney?

As of January 1st, the Minnesota statutory short form power of attorney changed. The changes are mainly to provide notice to those acting on your behalf of their duty to act in your best interest and the limitations on their power. It also informs the person signing the power of attorney, what powers they're giving and how to revoke it if something goes wrong.

Under the new statute, the old form is no longer valid as a statutory form and should no longer be used to create a new document. However, power of attorney documents using the old form and signed before January 1st are still valid documents.