Posts Tagged LegalZoom
If you love your pet like a family member, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has some advice: Consider planning for your pet’s future care as though the animal were a real dependent.
Under the law, pets are property, not living things in need of breakfast and a good scratch. That means your precious pooch or coddled cat could easily end up in a shelter—or worse—if you die or are unable to care for it.
That is an unpleasant prospect for the 62% of American households that have pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. Already, we spoil them, spending an estimated $53 billion on them this year, up 28% over the past five years.
This coming week, the ASPCA is teaming with online legal-documents provider LegalZoom.com to promote the company’s Pet Protection Agreement, which identifies guardians for your pets, allows you to leave funds for their care and lets you list their caregivers, such as your veterinarian or groomer.
Both will benefit: LegalZoom sells the agreements for $39 to $79 and the ASPCA will receive either 15% or 10% of the price, depending on where the buyer clicks from.
Still, the deal raises a difficult question: Who will take care of your pet if you can’t?
Trusts-and-estates lawyers say that without at least an informal arrangement, you can’t be sure what will happen to your pet. Family members might be unable to take it in, and your children or spouse might be willing to give the animal you adore nothing more than a ride to the local shelter.
Here are steps to take if you want to ensure your pet will have a good home:
Get a commitment. You need to ask any prospective caregiver to become your pet’s guardian, rather than assume someone will step up and adopt it, says Kim Bressant-Kibwe, trusts-and-estates counsel at the ASPCA.
Rachel Hirschfeld, who created the Pet Protection Agreement, suggests identifying two or three potential guardians, since people move and their situations change.
If no one will commit, seek out a local shelter or rescue organization that will take the pet and find it a new home. Some organizations might require or request a donation to cover their costs to care for and place the animal.
Put it in writing. A handshake might be enough if you trust the person, says David Neufeld, a lawyer in Princeton, N.J. Otherwise, draft a letter or formal agreement for your current pet and any pets you may acquire to be signed by you and the future guardian. The agreement should be copied and shared with family members and your vet, so that everyone knows the plan.
Lawyers discourage putting such instructions in a will, since those can be challenged and may take months or years to be settled—and your pet will need attention well before that.
Amend your power-of-attorney documents. If you are hospitalized or disabled, a friend might not be able to care for your pets without formal permission. In addition, you may want to authorize that some money could be spent for the pet’s care, if needed.
Create a pet dossier. This seemed like a kooky idea, until I considered our mutt, Jefferson. Until he died last month at age 15, he was on a special diet and three medications for arthritis. Our children weren’t in a position to take him, and no one else would have known his particular affection for chicken.
The instructions should include contact information for the vet, pet sitter, groomer and other service providers, plus details about vaccinations, medicines and the pet’s likes and dislikes. Save a copy with other important papers and give a copy to your potential guardians.
Consider coughing up some money. You might want to provide funds for your pet’s future care, especially if it has medical needs or you want special services, like regular dog-walking or doggy day care.
But never leave money to the animal outright. For amounts of, say, $25,000 or more, you can create a pet trust, naming a trustee to manage the money, who may be separate from the caretaker. You should also specify where any money remaining will go when the pet passes away.
Four states don’t specifically recognize pet trusts—Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Mississippi—and state laws differ, so you will need a lawyer, which could cost from several hundred dollars to as much as $2,000.
You also can leave funds in your will to the caregiver with the request that they be used for the pet, though some states don’t allow bequests with strings attached.
If you leave a significant amount for your pet, you should consider a no-contest clause for other beneficiaries, which deletes their share if they fight your wishes, says Mary O’Reilly, a Mineola, N.Y., trusts-and-estates lawyer. Often, she says, “there’s not a lot of sympathy when grandma gives her estate to her cat.”
- By Karen Blumenthal
Posted by Steven Maimes, The Trust Advisor
Estate tax guru Jonathan Blattmachr says wealth planning will change radically over the next 10 years. From artificial intelligence making tax and estate planning decisions to litigation settled by computer, our interview with him offers thrilling details.
While many law firms prepare intricate contingency plans for every possible scenario in their clients’ lives and posterity, visionary attorney Jonathan Blattmachr says few prepare for their own futures with anything like the same care.
“The one thing you cannot afford is to get too far behind the change curve,” he says. “If you get too far behind, you’re going to lose out.”
Blattmachr recently laid out a few of the revolutionary trends that might shape the world of estate planning for the elite participants at this year’s Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning summit at the University of Miami.
Once he got back to New York, he was gracious enough to give The Trust Advisor Blog and our readers a taste of the changes he sees in the profession over the next decade.
1. Computerized Law
Word processing was only the first step in streamlining the work of preparing trust documents and other paperwork. Retail clients can already get a professional-quality will drafted for under $100, Blattmachr says, and as template-driven systems get smarter, the level of service can only improve.
Given the sophisticated state of modern tax prep software, a computer could probably figure out what types of estate planning vehicles are appropriate for a given user’s situation and prepare a fairly complex — if impersonal — estate plan based on the results.
Blattmachr says he’s tried a $71 will-in-a-box from a company called LegalZoom and wasn’t exactly thrilled with the results personally. But he recognizes the fact that these products compete with face-to-face estate planners and help drive down the value proposition of their services.
To level the playing field, estate planners may well bring the technology in-house and have it do the heavy lifting while they establish a rapport with their clients.
A planner who can add human expertise and a personal touch to a computer-generated will may be able to price the final product within competitive range of the fully automated alternative — while charging enough of a premium to make a fair living. In fact, by leveraging 99% of the work, the planner can theoretically serve many more clients a year, bill the hours and enjoy even higher cash flow.
2. A.I. Judges
And if a computer can write the documentation, another one can read the file, compare it to the body of historical precedent and make a decision — without human intervention.
This is happening even as we speak, Blattmachr says.
“Litigators are saying no computer can do what I do,” he explains. “Well guess what? They are now deciding cases by computer.”
New York City is already settling thousands of cases a year just by feeding the files into a machine and having it crunch the case law to determine how each dispute should be resolved.
It isn’t so much actively adjudicating as a matter of adding up how judges have ruled in the past and weighing the final probabilities, Blattmachr says — something like a legal Monte Carlo simulation.
3. Proprietary Trusts
A bit less high-tech, but patenting their favorite trust twists will become a way for planners to ensure that computers don’t turn their services into commodities, Blattmachr says.
He points to the SO-GRAT, which functions like a conventional grantor-retained annuity trust only funded by stock options. The technique has been patented by Florida estate planning firm Wealth Transfer Group, which has successfully defended its property in court.
Offering this type of proprietary service makes a planner unique — or licensing it to friendly colleagues (or software companies) can bring in additional revenue. Either way, those who want to make use of the technique have to come to you to get their piece of the action.
4. Remote Law
The next generation’s estate planners may serve a global clientele, without ever meeting a single client face to face.
More and more firms are already marketing to prospects and keeping their leads on the line by providing a rich experience through their website: an online newsletter, a blog, even a Twitter feed.
Down the road, Blattmachr sees these sites merging with the computerized decision-making software that is already helping mass-market clients write their wills.
“The law firm’s software will analyze the client’s responses and then advise the client whether he or she is an appropriate candidate for the strategy and state why,” he explains.
“Presumably, there will be an offer to meet with the client or prospective client to implement the strategy if that is what the client or prospect wishes to do,” he adds.
In effect, the estate planner will be providing basic advice — via the automated system — from anywhere in the world. As a result, Blattmachr expects a lot more work-at-home lawyers to do good business over the next decade.
And while many U.S. professionals are worried about having their jobs outsourced to India, there’s a secret to outsourcing, Blattmachr says.
“No lawyer in India is going to work as cheaply as a computer,” he adds. “So outsource yourself to the computer and keep the money.”
Of course, servicing clients outside of the lawyer’s own jurisdiction may require knowledge — whether derived from computer software) or affiliation with a lawyer in the client’s own jurisdiction — to adequately serve the client’s interest.
5. Expect the Unexpected
Given the pace of innovation, modern technology will look almost unimaginably archaic by the time 2020 rolls around, Blattmachr says.
“The rate of change right now is almost perpendicular, straight up,” he explains.
As a result, while the basic facts of human life will remain constant, the day-to-day details may be hard to recognize.
But unless they cure the mortal condition, there will still be estate planners. And it’s almost certain they’ll still be wrestling with the ever-changing headaches of the tax code.
Written by the Trust Advisor Blog staff. To contact us, click here .