When it comes to Estate Planning, have you ever thought any of these?

It’s time that we set up a Will…
When dad died, he had a Living Trust – maybe I need a Trust as well?
I think it is time to get my affairs in order…
What do I have to do so my loved ones don’t end up in Probate Court?
If you’ve had any of these thoughts, then the next question becomes very important…

What have you done about it?
If the answer is nothing, we can help.

Procrastinating Estate Planning is common. In fact, one attorney even wrote a book  called “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Estate Planning.” If you’ve decided that you have procrastinated estate planning long enough and are ready to get moving forward, we’re here to help.

Stop Procrastinating Estate Planning

The Law Office of Mark McMullin is focused on “Estate Planning”. Typically, people think of Wills, Trust, and Beneficiary Designations when they think of Estate Planning. We do them all. If now is the right time for to take action, to get your affairs in order, we’d like to help.

We’ve helped a lot of other people just like you and would consider it an honor to work with you. You know this is important stuff. You also may not know just where to start or what questions to ask. We will help you with all of that.

What our Estate Planning clients say

Take a look at our Testimonials page and see what our other clients are saying. Notice the towns where these testimonials come from – our clients are your neighbors in Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Marble Hill, Scott City, Perryville, New Madrid, and Poplar Bluff. It’s not uncommon for clients to drive over an hour to meet with us at our office in Cape Girardeau because they want to make sure they are dealing with someone who knows what they are doing.

If you’re ready to get started, just give our office a call (573-334-5125). We would be happy to help you.

What Practice Areas do you Focus On?

Law firms typically focus on specific areas of the law called practice areas. Our primary practice areas are Estate Planning (Wills & Trusts) and Elder Law (medicaid planning & asset protection). We’ve chosen to limit our practice areas to better serve our clients. After all, if you wouldn’t go to an orthopedic doctor for a heart condition. Likewise in the law, most people would think twice before having their divorce attorney prepare a trust.

Practice Areas of Law Office of Mark McMullin
Practice Areas of Law Office of Mark McMullin

The Missouri Bar has Rules of Professional Conduct which we follow. One of the rules (Rule 4-7.4) states that “a lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is a specialist unless the communication contains a disclaimer that neither the Supreme Court of Missouri nor The Missouri Bar reviews or approves certifying organizations or specialist designations.” So most Missouri attorneys choose not to use the word “specialist”.

OUr PRactice AReas

What I will tell you is that for the past 5 years, my practice has been focused on two areas of law: estate planning and elder law. Often people refer to me as an “Estate Planning Attorney”. My firm is built to handle estate planning and elder law cases. You’ll notice that right away – it guides how we answer the phone, how we schedule appointments, and how work flows through our office. If you have another type of case (for example: a divorce) we’ll gladly refer you to another attorney in the area who handles that type of law. That said, if you are looking for an attorney to help you:

  • Get your affairs in order,
  • Prepare a Last Will & Testament,
  • Create a Living Trust,
  • Protect your life savings, or
  • Help you qualify for Medicaid

We are happy to help you. Just call to schedule an initial consultation.

4 Ways Flat Fee Billing Benefits Estate Planning Clients

When possible (and most of the time it is possible), we charge our clients flat fees for estate planning work. That way, our clients will know exactly how much it will cost to have their will, trust, or other estate planning documents prepared.

A Canadian court had this to say about legal services, “A person requiring legal advice does not set out to buy time. Rather the object of the exercise is to buy services.” Our focus is on delivering you the services you want, in the most efficient manner possible.

We prefer flat fees for 4 main reasons:

  1. Flat Fees Creates Predictability for the Client. Before you choose what services to have us perform, you will know what it will cost. This is much better than receiving a bill in the mail after the fact and being surprised at the number of hours a project took.
  2. Flat Fees Incentivize us to Work Efficiently. Under the billable hour model, attorneys have a disincentive to leverage past work. Sometimes, you even see attorney’s reinventing the wheel simply because they get to charge for the time they spend “reinventing”. With flat fees, our focus is on working efficiently to provide you with the services and outcome you desire.
  3. Flat Fees Focus on Value. Our focus is on delivering value to each and every one of our clients. Value means delivering peace of mind today and saving time, money, and energy in the future.
  4. Flat Fees Lead to Early Assessment and Evaluation of Case. Before entering into a flat fee billing agreement, we will thoroughly assess the matter. We will review and evaluate each known step in the process, determine how much work will be required, and what contingencies may arise. Our flat fee will reflect the amount of work required, the complexity of the matter, the skill set needed, and the value provided. The benefit to you is that you get a clear picture at the beginning of the case, rather than when are half way through the matter.

Flat fees are just another way we deliver value to our estate planning clients throughout Missouri. To learn more, feel free to contract our Cape Girardeau office at 573-334-5125.

What’s the Best Part of Estate Planning?

From my perspective, as the attorney, the best part of estate planning is the people. Daily, I get to meet and help great people. And part of estate planning is that it isn’t only about the client – client’s plan for themselves as well as their children, grandchildren, and loved ones. Estate Planning brings out the best in people!

Most of my clients report that the best part of estate planning is the peace of mind it brings. It’s common to hear clients say that they have been meaning to do estate planning for years… and have simply procrastinated it. And estate planning is easy to procrastinate. To borrow a phrase from Stephen R. Covey, estate planning is important but not urgent. So clients can put off estate planning for months or years. Yet, when they decide to get it done, they experience relief! The peace of mind comes from ending the procrastination, from getting answers to their questions, from facing the inevitable (that one day we will all die), and from knowing that their wishes will be carried out not only for themselves but also for their children, grandchildren, and loved ones. Often these wishes include that their loved ones will be able to avoid the time, expense, and hassle of probate court. Estate planning makes that possible.

How Much Will I Owe in Estate Tax?

One common question clients have is, “How much Estate Tax will I owe?” For most clients, the answer is “None.”

As of 2016, the United States Estate Tax Exemption is $5.45 million ($5,450,000) per person. There is portability of the exemption between married couples so married couples effectively have an exemption of $10.90 million. That means an individual passing away in 2016 can pass $5.45 million (and a couple $10.90 million) without having to pay a cent in estate taxes.

So how many Americans end up paying estate tax each year? According to the Joint Committee on Taxation’s 2015 report to Congress, during “2013, the most recent year for which final numbers are available, there were 2.6 million deaths in the United States, and 4,700 estate tax returns reporting some tax liability were filed. Thus, taxable estate tax returns represented approximately one-fifth of one percent of deaths.” [Source: https://www.jct.gov/publications.html?func=startdown&id=4744] That’s another way of saying 99.8% of Americans who passed away in 2013 did not owe any estate tax.

That’s a big difference than in the past. Consider that in 1997, the Estate Tax Exemption was $600,000. It’s been less than 20 years since then and the Estate Tax Exemption has fluctuated wildly, as the chart below shows, from $1,000,000 in 2003 to unlimited in 2010.

Year Estate Tax Exemption
1987-1997 $600,000
1998 $625,000
1999 $650,000
2000-2001 $675,000
2002 $1,000,000
2003 $1,000,000
2004 $1,500,000
2006-2008 $2,000,000
2009 $3,500,000
2010 None
2011 $5,000,000
2012 $5,120,000
2013 $5,250,000
2014 $5,340,000
2015 $5,430,000
2016 $5,450,000

Estate planning attorneys and clients wish there were more certainty regarding the future taxation of estates and gifts. However, little in this area is certain. Currently there are proposals in Congress ranging from repealing the estate tax completely to repealing any estate tax exemption. There is considerable discussion regarding reducing the exemption to $3,500,000 or $2,500,000. It is unlikely that any legislation regarding the estate tax passes this year. Depending on the outcome of this November’s election, tax code reform may get serious consideration in 2017.

With the uncertainty regarding the future of the estate tax, it is important to review your estate plan periodically to ensure that your estate plan is consistent with current tax rates.

Estate Planning – It’s Important to Do, But Easy to Procrastinate

Benjamin Franklin said, “but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Benjamin Franklin - Nothing certain but death and taxes

We all know that someday we are going to die. In that way, it is completely predictable. Yet, since none of us know precisely when we will, we often feel that death is very unpredictable.

Often my estate planning clients report that they have been thinking about doing estate planning for quite some time, usually years. Sometimes, decades. Yet, like many important things, it is easy to procrastinate. There is usually nothing demanding that we get it done this week, month, or year.
This procrastination is often overcome when a loved one dies, a medical challenge arises, or the encouragement (also sometimes described as nagging) of children finally triumphs.
Recently, a friend’s mother contacted me for some estate planning. The mother’s husband had just passed away at age 92… with no estate planning. The deceased husband’s estate now had to be divided between his current wife and his children from his prior marriages. It was mess.
The question that crossed my mind is, “At what age should he have stopped procrastinating and done some estate planning?” When he retired seems like a really good time to start the planning process. Likewise, when he remarried. And when he turned 70… and 75… and 80… and 85… and 90!

Often I tell people, “The only time you need to do estate planning is the day before you need it. Yet, since we never know when that day will be, the time to do it is now!”

If you are reading this article, it is likely that you or a loved one is procrastinating estate planning as well. I encourage you to stop procrastinating. Pick up the phone, make the call, get the process started, and take a step towards planning and peace of mind.

In Missouri, a Last Will and Testament Leads to Probate

Often I have clients schedule an initial consultation to discuss having a Last Will and Testament drafted for them. While I am happy to do this for clients, upon further discussion, most clients realize that what they actually want is something different than a Will.

Last Will and Testament image

A Will is great for nominating guardians for minor children. Having a Will is also far better than passing away intestate (that is, without a Will) where default Missouri law controls the management and distribution of your estate rather than it being distributed according to your desires.

Yet, a Will often leads to Probate Court. This is the very thing that most of my clients want to avoid. After all, probate court (1) costs money, (2) consumes your loved one’s time, (3) leaves some decisions up to the local probate judge, and (4) is a matter of public record.

A much better plan is to avoid probate. And in most situations, in Missouri, avoiding probate is not that difficult to do. Clients can avoid probate by using all or some combination of the following:
1. a Revocable Living Trust (RLT) agreement,
2. a Beneficiary Deed for Missouri real estate,
3. a Gift Deed for personal property,
4. Payable on Death provisions for bank accounts,
5. Transfer on Death provisions for vehicles and boats, and
6. Beneficiary Designations for retirement and financial accounts.

Might it cost a little bit of money now to avoid probate later? Probably. Yet, avoiding planning now is being penny wise and pound foolish. One great thing about estate planning is the peace of mind it brings to my clients, that their affairs are in order and their wishes will be carried out.

Estate Planning and Probate

If individuals choose to organize their affairs while they are alive, it is called Estate Planning. If individuals fail to plan while they are alive, then the process to organize their affairs is called Probate. Either way, if an individual has assets, his or estate will be organized by someone.

Estate Planning focuses on getting your assets to who you want, how you want, in the manner you want. To do this, we use a variety of tools including durable Powers of Attorney, Wills, Living Trusts, and Other Trusts (SNT, QTIP, Qualified Spousal Trust, Marital Deduction Trust). Like most things in life, when people take time to plan, they are more satisfied with the end result. When estate planning clients leave my office they are satisfied that they know how their assets are going to and when the transfer will take place.

Probate is the alternative to Estate Planning. It is the State’s estate plan for you. Each state has its own probate laws. In Missouri, the probate laws are found in Chapter 473 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. Say John and Jane are married and have 3 children together. If John passes away, the probate laws of Missouri (RSMO 474.010) state that Mary would get the first $20,000 of his estate and only half of the remaining estate. The other half of the remaining estate would go to the children. So to keep it simple, on an estate of $200,000, Jane would only receive $120,000 while the children would receive $80,000. Probably not what either John or Jane would have wanted. And this could have easily been prevented with simple estate planning.

Free options to avoid this include having Joint Accounts or Naming a Payable on Death beneficiary. Other, more powerful options include having a Will or a Revocable Living Trust. Simply not planning and hoping things will take care of themselves, is tough to justify when the solution is either free or fairly inexpensive. Planning is better.