Prepare for the Inevitable Upcoming Tax Season

Every year right between Christmas and New Year’s people start dreading tax season. That shoe box or receipt drawer may not close all the way anymore. Maybe you just found the statement for quarterly tax estimates (from June) in another pile of papers. Likewise, maybe your resolution list from January 2021 just resurfaced that included “stay on top of taxes” on the list. You already know that when you prepare for the inevitable upcoming tax season, it will suck so much less. So, let’s get started!

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Get Out Ahead of Crunch Time

Rather than pouring yourself another cup of cheer and making tax preparations next year’s problem, face it head on. You can pour that cup of cheer if you’d like. However, digging in now will make Future You so much less stressed come tax time.

Picture yourself the evening of April 14, 2022, what do you see yourself doing? Do you see yourself furiously adding up totals? Trying to find random tax documentations? Or would you rather have plans to join your buddies for a well-deserved thirsty Thursday at the local watering hole?

Get Organized

Most tax experts will say it matters less how you organize your paperwork but more that you actually do it. So long as you have materials in order so that you can produce documentation requested for tax purposes, you’re good. You will save money in preparation fees.

If you don’t currently have a system or experience exasperated looks from your tax professional each year, ask yourself why. Perhaps your current system or lack thereof could use a tune up? Rely on the advice of experts on how to create or improve on your current techniques. You’ll make everyone’s lives easier.

Check Your Information

Double check that all your information on file with the IRS is correct, including direct deposit information for refunds. Even something as simple as an address change can get forgotten during a busy year.

Closely examine everything from dependent information to retirement and investment accounts to income streams. This year remember to check Economic Impact Payments and Child Tax Credit Updates, too, if applicable. Spotting differences now can avoid potential problems after filing.

Ask Questions and Get Clarifications Early

Do some early research to see if you need to file differently or can add new deductions. Whether you work with an accountant or use a self-service tax filing tool, ask follow-up questions from the experts.

Get clarification on changes in tax deductions early in the season so you have time to do something about them. Finding out about a new deduction does no good if you didn’t save the proof necessary to claim it.

Nervous about this upcoming tax season? How will you prepare for the inevitable upcoming tax season? Relax! Our experienced tax professionals can help you minimize any taxes you owe and ensure you comply with all applicable laws. We help our clients avoid legal issues with their taxes while providing peace of mind. Complete our online form or call us today at 724-216-5180 to learn more.

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Making Charitable Donations Part of Your Estate Plan

As you create an estate plan ( yes, you need one ), consider how your assets will be divided upon your death. Most people don’t consider charitable donations as a way to minimize estate/inheritance taxes. However, did you know that making charitable donations part of your estate plan could lessen the tax burden for your heirs? Read on to learn more.

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Why Designate Charitable Donations in Estate Plans?

For example, some people decide they don’t want to leave all their assets to their children or other beneficiaries. Likewise, others don’t have beneficiaries to leave their assets to but want to ensure their estate contributes to a lasting legacy.

For anyone passionate about a specific cause, making charitable donations part of your estate plan may be the right choice for you. Leaving funds or other assets to a designated charity could make the most impact. Tax-exempt charities are set up to maximize the effectiveness of gifts they receive, planned or otherwise.

Any funds given to a recognized public charity are not taxable. While this may decrease the overall amount any named beneficiaries receive, most people appreciate the sentiment during their grieving period. Making charitable donations part of your estate plan may be a good choice.

What Charities Count?

Any charity recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) can receive tax-exempt donations as part of an estate plan. These include charitable organizations, churches and religious organizations, private foundations, and other non-profits.

In addition, depending on the size of your gift, you should contact the charity to inform them of your plans. They may need time to prepare for a large gift (over $10,000). They can also provide basic information to list in the estate plan to streamline the process. If you do name other beneficiaries in your estate plan, you should probably let them know your plans, too. This can minimize hurt feelings and contested wills upon your death.

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How to Get Started.

There are a number of ways to plan gift to charities, foundations, or others as part of your estate plan. Estate/inheritance tax rules seem to change every year. So, your estate attorney can work with your designated charities to determine which options make the most sense for everyone. By making your wishes clear in your estate plan, you leave little room for misinterpretation. You can minimize additional work for your heirs and maximize their tax benefits while supporting organizations important to you.

In conclusion, are you not sure how to name a charity in your estate plan? RELAX! Our estate planning experts can walk you through options. Each will fit your unique circumstances. We help with will preparation, trust creation and administration, probate administration, and more. Call us today at 724-216-5180 or complete the online form to schedule a free consultation.

What Makes a Great Estate Attorney?

When a person dies, what happens to their stuff? If they have an estate plan, they will have everything outlined. Preparation is key. Estate attorneys can help someone put together a will, set up trusts, and schedule charitable donations on the deceased behalf. A great estate attorney will also make arrangements for other common issues after a person passes. So, what makes a great estate attorney?

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Desk-Side Manners

Medical patients will often seek out doctors with great bedside manners. Clients should expect the same thing, courtesy, and explanations from their estate attorney. Desk-side manners if you will. An estate attorney that cares will take the time to fully understand your family’s needs and your personal wishes. They will help you sort out your options. In addition, they will also help you fully understand each option before making those decisions.

Efficient and Thorough Preparations

Nobody likes thinking about their demise. Occasionally time just simply isn’t on the client’s side. Meanwhile, a good estate attorney will do a thorough job preparing estate documentation to minimize anxiety. Experienced and caring estate attorneys will do the same thorough preparations, but also turn things around quickly. You should never have to chase down an estate attorney for the status of paperwork if time is of the essence. Once you have discussed everything you want prepared, they should give you a timeline and meet it without issue.

Does All the Things

Sometimes estate attorneys will specialize in a few specific areas like probate or will creation. Exceptional estate attorneys can be your one-stop shop for a variety of legal issues. You can trust them to execute on everything related to estate planning and provide better results over engaging multiple attorneys. If they’ve been doing it long enough, an estate attorney should have the experience setting up and administrating trusts, finding ways to avoid probate, or minimizing tax implications.

Great estate attorneys can help their clients navigate a very complex legal system. They provide their clients peace of mind during planning and also during execution.

Do you have a great estate attorney? If you need assistance planning, updating, or executing on an existing plan, relax! Call our office at 724-216-5180 or complete the online form to schedule a free consultation.

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What Makes a Good Guardian?

What makes a good guardian? Creating a will and estate plan means thinking about those you leave behind after you die. If you have young children, wards or even beloved pets, your will should also include naming a guardian. So, what do you look for in a guardian?

What makes a good guardian? An image of a person writing a will and estate with a quill pen.
Find the right guardian.
A Guardian’s Role

Firstly, after your death, a guardian will bear responsibility for the care of those named. Most commonly this refers to minor children under the age of 18. A guardian provides basic necessities, medical care, education and support until the child reaches 18 years old. They must act in the best interests of the child.

Common Guardian Nominees

Usually, the other parent or a stepparent may be named as guardian of young children. While tempting to name your parents (after all, they raised you), consider the likelihood of them outliving you. More commonly siblings, close friends, or other adult children make good nominees to serve as guardians. In the best scenarios, the adult already knows the child and their personality well.

Important Attributes

Most importantly, a prospective guardian should have the physical and mental abilities as well as the financial stability to care for a child. They should also be dependable and trustworthy. In addition, beyond that baseline, you’ll have to consider who would best fill your role in your absence. Who shares your core values and beliefs? Who would parent your child in a manner similar to how you would? Guardians should also have the patience to support a child through the traumatic experience of losing their parent.

Consent to Serve as Guardian

This should go without saying. However, we’ll just put this right here: you should always ASK someone before naming them guardian of your child. In the event of your untimely death, named guardians should be aware of their new responsibilities. Having a named person unable or unwilling to serve as your child’s guardian could be doubly devastating for them.

Backup Plans

To lessen the anxiety of finding THE guardian, parents should consider naming additional adults to serve as backup guardians. Things happen and even a well-informed, amenable first choice may have to bow out. Having multiple options can lessen the burden on someone who may no longer be in a position to serve as guardian.

Periodically Review

As with most aspects of an estate plan, it makes sense to revisit guardian selection on a regular basis. Divorces, fallings out, or other unfortunate events could make previously ideal guardians no longer the best choices. Of course, you should make those impacted by your changes aware of them. ​

Every parent of young children should include guardianship as part of their estate planning. Knowing what makes a good guardian is only part of the equation. We know that every client has unique situations, and we take the time to understand your needs and wishes. Then we’ll offer advice on your best options. Call John A. Cochran, Esquire, in Greensburg at 724-216-5180 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.

What Makes a Good Executor?

We’ve been telling people for a while now that you need a will.

Read more here—> https://www.jacochranlaw.com/reminder-you-need-will

Don’t just take our word for it. Here’s even more: https://www.thebalance.com/why-you-need-a-will-1289264

Likewise, you can find many more reasons why you should have a will anywhere on the web.

For those trying to do the right thing, after beneficiaries, the next question becomes who will serve as executor? This is an important decision. But before you decide, we’ve created this post to help you think about what makes a good executor.

Image of a hand stamping a last will and testament.
Family

Most people automatically select a reasonably responsible family member to serve as executor of their will. Usual suspects include spouses, siblings, parents, children or close cousins. One word of caution: you should select at least one person younger than you. After all, not to be rude, but your executor might not outlive you if they are older.

Close Friends

Not everyone has family they can trust. This makes “families of choice” a more viable option to execute a will. Sewing up a clear will and executor clause becomes even more important if there are next of kin. The good news a will can cover that base for you.

Attorney or Other Trusted Professional

Sometimes for a variety of reasons, a person does not have trusted family or friend to name as their executor. Sometimes they just want to minimize any squabbles by putting an independent third party in charge of executing the will. The downside of this arrangement is that your estate will pay a fee for their services.

Limitations

If the person you name as the executor lives in another state, you may need to check state laws. Some states have special requirements about family members, bonds to protect heirs from mismanagement, or the appointment of in-state agents. Each state will also set executor fees for third party management, depending on the size of estate.

Replace Only if Necessary

The bottom line is you want to choose an executor who is mentally and financially stable to do the job. You have to be able to trust they will carry out your wishes as outlined in your will upon your death. If a situation changes that no longer makes your named executor the best option anymore, you can create a codicil. A codicil serves as an amendment to the original will which could name the new executor. You must have it validated just like the original will with two legal witnesses. Placing your trust in an executor to carry out your wishes after your death is no small matter. If you need help putting together a will or want advice on selecting an executor, relax!

What makes a good executor? An image of two hands signing a will document.

Finally, we know that every client has unique situations. However, we take the time to understand your needs and wishes. Then we’ll offer advice on your best options. Call John A. Cochran, Esquire, in Greensburg at 724-216-0704 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.

Do I Need a Trust Fund?

A photo of money and phrases associated with trust funds

Trust funds get a bad rap. Many connect them with entitled “trust fund babies” who inherit enormous sums of money from ultra-wealthy family. But not only one-percenters benefit from creating accounts designated for specific purposes for beneficiaries. Certain trust funds pass outside of probate, they can potentially save beneficiaries time and money. Also, unlike wills, they are not made public. So, you may ask yourself: do I need a trust fund, too?

We suggest asking that question with a trusty (heh) attorney at your side. While you consider that question, below we explain a handful of commons trust funds and their purposes. 

Living Trust

A living trust designates a trustee to manage assets for the beneficiary/grantor while the grantor is still alive. Trustees manage trusts according to the best interests and wishes of the grantor. Living trusts are typically revocable (amendable during a settlor’s lifetime). When the settlor dies, the trust automatically becomes irrevocable (cannot amend or revoke).

Testamentary Trusts

Also known as will trusts, testamentary trusts act more like a standard Last Will and Testament for the deceased. Unlike living trusts, these trusts do not go into effect until the death of the settlor. Will trusts can protect assets from a grantor’s creditors. They also restrain monies available to the grantors from the inheritance.

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust 

An irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is a type of living trust set up to own a life insurance policy. An existing policy can transfer to the ILIT after formation. ILITs are irrevocable by definition. This is because the trust must be funded through placing a policy into its ownership. Several tax advantages, both income and inheritance, come with these trust programs. 

Do you have questions about an existing trust? Do you need an experienced attorney to create a new trust for you? Every client has unique situations. We take time to understand your needs and wishes. Then we offer advice on your best options. Call John A. Cochran, Esquire, in Greensburg at 724-216-0704 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.

Five Steps for Creating an Estate Plan

photo law book for creating your estate plan

What do you think about when someone talks about creating an estate plans? If you’re like most people, you assume that means they have a will. Full stop. But did you know that’s only part of the equation? Below we’ve listed five steps for creating an estate plan. 

1. Wills

Yes, wills serve as the backbone of an estate plan. Probating a will usually lacks the Hollywood drama of fainting, crying, and shouting in an attorney’s office during the reading. But without one, relatives automatically become heirs, even if you’d rather they not. Don’t want your mom to gain possession of your prized comic book collection? Ensure you have a valid will that gives them to your comic-con buddy. 

2. Beneficiaries

More than just who gets what in your will, you also need to name beneficiaries on all life insurance, retirement plans, and other assets. Spouses with joint ownership of assets – like a house – will automatically inherit the asset, so long as the deed reflects this. Also, revisit these beneficiaries periodically, especially after a large life change. I hate explaining to a deceased’s wife that the ex-wife inherits the insurance money because he never updated his policy beneficiaries.  

3. Memorandums or Letters

Not everything will be captured in a will. Some sentiments require additional explanation. For example, some people want to dictate every aspect of their funeral, including what songs to play during the service. We recommend these individuals write everything down in a document colloquially called a Memorandum of Death. Maybe that sounds creepy, but if you feel strongly about NOT playing Amazing Grace at your funeral, better record it. This also works for making sure the right people receive sentimental items with an explanation of why.

4. Power of Attorney 

No one wants to think about losing their facilities and not being able to make their own decisions. But if you plan to live a long life, the odds favor those with a durable power of attorney (POA). With a POA, a trusted individual can advocate for your financial affairs. They will act on your behalf to pay bills and disperse your funds according to your wishes. PS: it’s not always a relative who serves in this role.

5. Declutter your files

Grieving loved ones don’t need additional obstacles to closing a deceased’s affairs. Nobody wants to sift through losing lottery tickets, old magazines, and canceled checks to desperate need to find your estate plan and other important paperwork necessary to file for probate in the courts. Don’t be “that guy” that keeps everything in a grocery bag in the back of the hall closet. Organize your stuff. 

Ready to make sure your estate plan needs your needs? Relax! Call our office at 724-216-5180 or complete the online form to schedule a free consultation.  

Reminder: You Need a Will

you need a will, especially during uncertain times

Continue reading

The Validity of Handwritten Wills

a photo of pen and ink handwritten will

Even though it’s nearly 2020, handwritten wills do still exist. And yes, they are legal in a handful of states, including Pennsylvania; however, there are stipulations and special care must be taken to confirm their validity. While this isn’t the recommended way of making final preparations for assets after death, sometimes a handwritten will is better than no will at all.

For any will (typed or handwritten) to be considered valid, or the person whose assets will be distributed upon death, or “the testator,” must be at least 18 years of age and be of sound mind. This means the person needs to understand what they are signing and what possessions they will be bequeathing.

The actual document itself, regardless of its contents, needs to in some way state that it is to serve as a last will and testament for the person. It just won’t cut it to hand over a note to the courts that simply states: “hey friend, I’m giving you all my things.”

Creating a handwritten will without the assistance of an experienced estate attorney can be risky business for proving its validity in court as well as assuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes. This is especially so if the last will and testament is for someone who has children that are minors, has remarried or is part owner in a business venture. Owning assets in multiple states or countries increases the complexity. 

In some states, handwritten wills must be made within the state, have two independent witnesses confirm the signature, and the document must be notarized. Unsurprisingly, named beneficiaries do not count as independent witnesses. 

Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that also permits an unwitnessed will to be admissible in probate. An unwitnessed will, or holographic will, only needs to be signed and dated by the testator at the end. It is also the easiest will to challenge in court. And while a witness may not be necessary at the time of signing to make the will valid, at least two independent witnesses must attest in court that the will indeed is signed by the testator.

Whenever possible it is best practice to avoid utilizing handwritten or holographic wills. As part of the services offered in our offices, we have joined testators at home, in hospice or in other settings outside our offices to create and validate wills. These include times when the testator is too injured or too ill to write and sign a will. However, if left with a handwritten or holographic will, having an attorney experienced in handwritten wills and the specific details necessary for it to be admissible in court can make the difference between a will being accepted or declared invalid. 

If you have questions about a loved one’s handwritten will or need help in drafting a valid will, contact our office at 724-216-5180 or use our online form

Newly Discovered Heir after an Estate is Already Closed

Previously ‘unknown heirs’ have always been known to come out of the woodwork when an estate proceeding is publicly posted. If you are the personal representative for a deceased’s estate, it can be disorienting to deal with individuals outside those who are specifically named beneficiaries. This confusion is compounded after an estate has already been probated and effectively is considered ‘closed’ by the courts. If a new heir comes forward, you need to determine if the estate should be reopened in probate court. 

When notice is given to all heirs, sometimes a particular individual does not respond in time. Unfortunately for them, some courts will not allow a reopening. Afterall, they should have pressed their claim within the allotted time. Sometimes there is an error and if the personal representative failed to give notice to a named heir of the probate proceeding, then the estate will need to be reopened in court and appropriately addressed. This can be followed with the unenviable position of needing to collect previously distributed assets from current beneficiaries for redistribution. 

Every once in a while, an heir emerges that even the deceased did not know about, such as an unknown child of the deceased. While they can petition the court as an heir-at-law, if the individual is not specifically named in a will, there is a good chance that even bringing forth a lawsuit will not successfully overturn the will. 

If you are a personal representative or beneficiary of a closed estate and have recently learned of a potential new heir to the deceased’s estate, speak to an expert who is knowledgeable in probate law before determining what to do. Every new development – particularly if redistribution of assets may be necessary – should be thoroughly analyzed for the most efficient way of addressing it. 

With more than 15 years of experience in probating wills, our offices can help! Contact our office at 724-216-5180 or use our online form to discuss your options.