AXELROD BLOG

Legal Matters



It's Never Too Soon

A long-time client of mine recently passed away from COVID. Over the past 20 years we had had numerous discussions about wills and estate planning. Being an avid procrastinator, he never followed up. He died intestate; which means the State of New York decided how his estate should be distributed, regardless of what he and his wife wanted. Unfortunately, this meant half of his estate went to a daughter from a prior marriage that he hadn’t talked to in 25 years and the other half went to his wife, who needed every penny to hold things together.


Not updating wills, trusts and other estate planning documents can, and often does, create unintended consequences. The same goes for beneficiary designations on IRA’s, 401k’s and life insurance policies. In this era of COVID, we never know what tomorrow holds.



Who Will Decide?

Another totally different, but important example, was a client who went through a divorce and as part of the divorce settlement was required to maintain a $500,000 life insurance policy for the benefit of his minor children. This is not an unusual situation where there is a requirement to pay child support. Unfortunately, the divorce lawyer named the two minor children individually as the beneficiaries on the life insurance policy. The State of New York does not permit minors to be the beneficiaries of life insurance policies in their name alone. If this happens, the State of New York requires that the proceeds of the policy be deposited in a savings account and that the minor beneficiaries can only receive the interest from the account until their 18th birthday. The interest was obviously not enough to support the children. Many court proceedings later, an understanding Judge helped the children out (and saved the divorce lawyer from a malpractice claim) by permitting the use of the insurance proceeds for their support, but only under certain limited circumstances.



The point of all of this is to emphasize how important it is to review all of your financial and estate planning documents on a regular basis. It is never too soon because we never know what tomorrow may bring. People often ask me what kind of law I practice. I tell them, “proper estate planning”. When they ask what that means, I tell them that when my clients pass and look down from heaven, their assets have been left to those they intended and in the manner they desired. That is proper estate planning.


Peace of Mind

As a service to our clients, once every three years, or when there has been a life-changing event, we offer a complimentary review of all of their financial and estate planning documents to make sure everything is up to date.



To ensure that you have done ‘proper estate planning’, call us to schedule your complimentary review of your estate plan at (585) 203-1020. You can also email us at ron@ronaxelrod.com.


Learn More About Our Estate Planning Services





A One-Page Business

For many years clients have asked me – “Now that I have my new company (corporation or LLC) what should I do next?” Tax and payroll issues aside, I’ve always asked them, “What does your business plan tell you to do?” Their response was almost universally a blank stare or they would ask, “What’s a business plan?”



At that point I shared with them a transformative experience that I had in 2001. I went to a seminar at a convention I was attending. Jim Horan, an author and motivational speaker, conducted the session. The seminar was called the “One-Page Business Plan”, which explained why having a business plan was critical to the success of any business. During the session, Horan also explained the importance of updating your business plan as your business grows. With a long, multi-page, complicated business plan, this could become a daunting task. On the other hand, updating a one-page plan is a simpler and less intimidating endeavor.



How to Get Started

Before writing your one-page business plan, here are some questions you’ll need to answer:

1. What is your vision (what will the company look like in three years)?

2. What is your mission (why are you building it)?

3. What is unique about your business (your point of differentiation)?

4. What results will you measure to see if your business is doing what it should be?

5. What is your strategy for building this business?

6. What is the work to be done?



The Plan

When I attended this seminar, it included workbooks and templates to help you arrive at the answers that would make it easy to write a one-page business plan. The good news is that all of this is now available on the Internet. CLICK HERE and in a matter of minutes you can create a business plan that will allow you to track your business progress and keep you focused on doing the right things.


If you need assistance developing a more comprehensive, long-term business plan, you don’t need to attend a seminar. Call our office and let’s talk.


CLICK HERE FOR YOUR ONE-PAGE BUSINESS PLAN

Contact Ron Axelrod at 585-203-1020

Many people are unfamiliar with an ethical will – also known as a ‘legacy letter’. In this article we will describe what an ethical will is, explore what it aims to accomplish, and how it differs from a legal will.


Unlike a traditional will or trust which is a legal document that transfers your personal and physical assets to your loved ones or charities after you pass, an ethical will aims to leave behind those intangible gifts to your loved ones such as personal stories, life lessons, wisdom you’ve gained from your life experiences, blessings, how you wish to have values or traditions preserved, and much more. It is your personal legacy letter to those who you’ve included in your legal will and is written by you, rather than an attorney.


Not Exactly a New Idea

Since ancient times, people have shared stories, wisdom, and blessings with future generations in hopes of leaving a personal legacy. A dying Jacob gathered his sons to offer them his blessings and to request them to bury him in Canaan with his ancestors, rather in Egypt. In modern times, Barack Obama’s legacy letter to his daughters, written on the eve of his inauguration in 2009, told his own personal story, expressed his values, and asked them to reach beyond their individual life goals to help others.



Messages You May Want to Include

Because your life’s worth cannot be measured by possessions alone, an ethical will is a beautiful way to relay meaningful messages to your loved ones straight from your heart. Messages that you may want to include are:


· Cultural, spiritual, and religious traditions you would like your family to preserve

· A written document with family history and stories to be cherished for years to come

· Your own personal story and how major events in your life have impacted you and formed your values

· Life lessons you want to pass on to your children

· Gratitude to those you cherish that you have not thanked enough

· Apologies to those you fear you may have hurt in the past

· Guiding principles you’ve lived by and hope are adopted by those you’ve left behind

· Wishes for your family and future generations



Inheritance Decisions Explained

If you’ve decided not to divide your estate equally among your beneficiaries for various reasons, your ethical will is an opportunity to explain why you have made these decisions. Maybe one of your children is financially well off and receives less of your inheritance than someone who is in greater need. Or, if it is important to you that one of your children follow your strong religious beliefs and they’ve chosen another path, this might also influence how your estate is being divided. If one beneficiary is to receive their inheritance outright, while another’s will remain in trust for many years, an ethical will offers you the opportunity to explain why.



Sharing Your Letter Sooner than Later

An ethical will tells your family what it is in in your meaningful life experiences that helped shape your values. It can be used as a healing tool offering apologies to those you have hurt and forgiving those you have hurt who may have hurt you. And finally, it allows you to share any advice you have for your family going forward. These are all good reasons why your loved ones should read your legacy letter now, while you’re still living. Sharing it with family and friends before you pass may also offer you greater peace of mind – having left nothing unsaid. If worded properly – leaving out judgments and criticisms – your loved ones will cherish your legacy letter for many years to come.


Conclusion

An ethical will does not attempt to replace a legal will, but is a natural compliment to it and can be a part of your overall estate planning. If you need assistant with estate planning, Ronald J. Axelrod, a Rochester, NY, attorney, can assist you. Call Ron at (585) 203-1020 to set up a complimentary initial appointment.

About Ronald J. Axelrod

Ron founded Ronald J. Axelrod & Associates more than 35 years ago and focuses his practice on estate planning including wills and trusts, elder law and Medicaid planning, and business law in Rochester, New York. He is also co-founder of a business brokerage firm, Transworld Business Advisors of Western New York. His law offices are located at 290 Linden Oaks, Suite 200, Rochester, NY 14625. He can be reached by calling (585) 203-1020 or emailing him at ron@ronaxelrod.com. You can also visit his website: https://www.ronaxelrod.com/

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