I don’t have enough money for an estate. Do I really need a plan?
Believe it or not, most people have an estate whether they think they have a lot of money or not. If you own a house, insurance policies, have retirement or savings accounts, own furniture or personal possessions, you have an estate. Making a plan for what happens to these items after death is not only smart, it’s the responsible thing to do.
What is estate planning?
Estate planning is so much more than dividing up your assets among your heirs. A good estate plan includes instructions for passing your values (religion, education, hard work, etc.) in addition to your valuables.
Include instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die.
Name a guardian and an inheritance manager for minor children.
Provide for family members with special needs without disrupting government benefits.
What happens if you don’t create your own estate plan?
Upon your death:
If you die without an intentional estate plan, your assets will be distributed according to the probate laws in your state.
In many states, if you are married and have children, your spouse and children will each receive a share.
That means your spouse could receive only a fraction of your estate, which may not be enough to live on.
If you have minor children, the court will control their inheritance.
If both parents die (i.e., in a car accident), the court will appoint a guardian without knowing whom you would have chosen.
What is a will?
In some very small estates, a will might be sufficient.
Usually, however, it just isn’t enough to afford the protection you are looking for.
A will provides your instructions, but it does not avoid probate.
Any assets titled in your name or directed by your will must go through your state’s probate process before they can be distributed to your heirs. The process varies greatly from state to state, but it can become expensive with legal fees, executor fees, and court costs. It can also take anywhere from nine months to two years or longer.
With rare exceptions, probate files are open to the public and excluded heirs are encouraged to come forward and seek a share of your estate. In short, the court system, not your family, controls the process.
What is a living trust?
A living trust should be revocable so that it a living, breathing document that changes as your needs and desires change.
With a living trust, you can avoid probate at death, prevent court control of assets at incapacity, bring all of your assets in one easy-to-manage tool, provide maximum privacy. It is valid in every state, and can be changed by you at any time.
Unlike a will, a trust doesn’t have to die with you. Assets can stay in your trust, managed by the trustee you selected, until your beneficiaries reach the age you want them to inherit.
Your trust can continue longer to provide for a loved one with special needs, or to protect the assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, spouses, and irresponsible spending.
Why is a living trust more expensive than a will?
A trust is a comprehensive book detailing your assets, wishes and desires for your heirs.
It details every potential circumstance, designates trustees and powers of attorneys and hands responsibility of your financial and personal affairs to a trusted individual after your death.
It may be more expensive to set up, but its benefits often outweigh the initial cost.
What if I can’t afford a living trust right now?
Start with what you can afford.
We are here to help you protect your loved ones.
At the very minimum, everyone should have a will and powers of attorneys designated in a legal document.
Complete those first, and then work your way up to a revocable living trust.
Who has to pay estate taxes?
Your estate will have to pay federal estate taxes if its net value when you die is more than the exempt amount set by Congress at that time. In 2011 and 2012, the federal exemption was $5 million (adjusted for inflation in 2012) and the tax rate was 35%.
Some states have their own death or inheritance tax, so your estate could be exempt from federal tax and still have to pay state tax.
For 2017, the estate and gift tax exemption is $5.49 million per individual, up from $5.45 million in 2016. That means an individual can leave $5.49 million to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax. A married couple will be able to shield just shy of $11 million ($10.98 million) from federal estate and gift taxes. The annual gift exclusion remains at $14,000 for 2017.
Year of Death Exempt Amount Top Tax Rate
2011 and 2012 $5 million* 35%
2013 and thereafter $1 million 55%
What Are Your Options For U.S. Immigration?
U.S. immigration is divided into two main categories:
Temporary Visas (visit, study or work visas), also known as non-immigrant visas
Permanent Residency (Green Cards from family or employment), known as immigrant visas
What are the common U.S. Temporary Visa Options?
Here are some of the most common U.S. work visa applications we file:
* TN Visa : fast track for Canadians and Mexicans who can get approved at a U.S. Port of Entry
L-1 Visa : for foreign workers and owners wishing to transfer to a new or existing U.S. business
E-2 and E-1 Visas : for investors and traders.
H-1B Visas: for specialty occupations
H-2B Visas: for non-agricultural workers
How can you obtain U.S. Permanent Residency?
There are a number of ways to do this but the most common 3 are:
Family Based Petitions
Investor EB-5 Applications
Each type of application for U.S. permanent residence has its own special procedures and requirements as well as processing times.
Does marriage to a U.S. citizen automatically get you a Green Card?
No. It may take from three months to two years to complete the Green Card process.
Can a visa be obtained in the United States?
As of 2004, all foreign nationals requiring new visas must apply for their visas at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States of America.
Can a visa be obtained in Canada for the U.S.?
How can you get a green card?
The most common ways are through sponsorship by a family member or an employer.
In some instances, you can file for yourself without sponsorship.
This USCIS site has very useful information on the various ways to get a green card:
What are the official rules to keep ones green card valid?
There are several “rules” green card holders must follow, such as filing tax returns, not voting in elections, and refraining from criminal behavior.
However, the most common issue is the travel restriction.
Green card holders cannot leave the U.S. for extended periods of time and must always show their intent to live permanently in the U.S.
Although difficult, there still may be ways to argue that your permanent residency should be preserved.
How long will it take to get a green card through marriage?
If you are in the U.S. and married to a U.S. citizen, the process to obtain permanent residence takes on average six to twelve months.
What is an anchor baby, and how does it help or hurt my chances at obtaining a green card?
This issue is a hot topic lately.
Basically, the child is a U.S. citizen but the parents do not become permanent residents or U.S. citizens by virtue of their child being born here.
They remain in whatever status they were in before the child was born.
So, if the parents are illegally in the U.S., they remain illegal and subject to deportation, even after the child is born in the U.S.
What can I do if my country is one of the banned nations named in the latest executive order?
Most recently, the U.S. Supreme court agreed to uphold part of the executive order until it hears the entire case when the court is back in session.
In a June 26 ruling, the court decided to leave in place parts of the Muslim ban while the merits of the case are debated, effectively barring individuals from six Muslim-majority countries without a “bona fide” relationship in the United States.
A bona-fide relationship would normally include family members, employers, or an educational institution .
This decision may also prevent entry for all refugees for 120 days.