Where to Store Your Legal Documents

Where to Store Your Legal Documents

After you meet with an attorney and have your estate planning documents prepared, you must decide where to store them so that your wishes are executed properly upon your passing.

Original Will vs. Holographic Will

The original will is the legal document that you signed; a holographic will is simply a handwritten will or a copy of the will that isn’t the original. Handwritten wills are only allowed in a few states, so it’s important to have the proper document.

If there’s a chance that family or friends might contest your will, then ensuring that the original will is accessible to the court is very important. While a copy of the will carries weight in court and can reinforce a claim, an original document is more likely to prevail if someone challenges your estate.

Where Should the Documents Be Stored?

Because the original will is such an important document, especially in the case of a contested estate, storing it in a safe place is paramount. There are a number of options for storage, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. (more…)

The Importance of Having a Will

As Wealth Advisors, we provide advice on all aspects of your financial situation, and work with a network of carefully selected professionals in taxes, estate planning and insurance to devise appropriate solutions that will help you achieve your goals. This article is a collaboration between Merriman Advisor Geoff Curran and Evan Monez, attorney at Montgomery Purdue Blankinship & Austin PLLC, who is one such member of our professional network team.


Though we try to stave off the inevitable as long as we can, it’s a fact of life that eventually, everyone dies. When this occurs, the deceased person’s family, while still grieving their loss, must deal with the transfer of the decedent’s assets. If you don’t have estate planning documents in place when your time comes, the laws of the state you live in determine how your estate is distributed. This is especially complex if you have children under age 18, children from previous marriages, property in different states or an estate large enough to be subject to federal or state estate taxes.

With some advance planning, you can ensure your assets pass as you intend, with as little trouble as possible for your loved ones. This article discusses Washington State law, and the rules discussed here may differ in other states. Please consult a licensed attorney in your state to understand how your state laws apply to the concepts in this article. (more…)

Provide Support for Disabled Family Members with an ABLE Account

ABLE, short for Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, is a type of savings plan established in 2014 to provide support for those with disabilities. The accounts are similar to traditional 529 plans in that contributions can grow and be distributed tax-free for qualified expenses. The difference between a college savings 529 plan and an ABLE 529A savings plan is that ABLE funds can be withdrawn tax free to cover qualified disability expenses versus just qualified education expenses.

Does having assets in an ABLE account impact federal benefits?

Assets in an ABLE account won’t impact federal benefits unless the balance exceeds $100,000. Any excess beyond $100,000 in an ABLE account is considered personal assets, and once personal assets exceed $2,000 (such as in their checking account), Social Security benefits are suspended. This means that if assets in an ABLE account are $100,000 or more, plus checking or any other account surpass $102,000, Social Security benefits are halted. Social Security benefits resume once personal assets fall below $2,000 ($102,000 including $100,000 in ABLE account).

If you take distributions from your ABLE account for qualified housing-related expenses and retain them to be paid the following month (such as paying rent the following month), those distributions are countable resources for Social Security.

ABLE accounts do not impact Medicaid eligibility. However, upon the death of the recipient of aid, Medicaid can claim assets, such as those in an ABLE account, for payback. Outstanding qualified disability expenses, such as burial costs, receive priority over Medicaid claims. If Medicaid payback claims are greater than the remaining ABLE account, there is no further recourse against the disabled beneficiary’s other assets. (more…)

Demystifying the Stretch IRA

iStock_000066493583_XXXLargeStretch IRAs are useful tools for the individual who wants to extend the life of their retirement accounts through multiple generations. Although there is often confusion surrounding stretch IRAs and how they work, the concept is straightforward. A stretch IRA is a strategy, not a product, used to “stretch” the life of Roth IRA and Traditional IRA assets by designating beneficiaries with the longest life expectancy, such as grandchildren or even great grandchildren. By selecting beneficiaries two to three generations younger than the account owner, as opposed to designating children, the IRS will have lower imposed required minimum distributions (RMDs) for the inherited IRA, leaving a greater asset base to grow and cover future distributions.

To calculate the RMD for an inherited IRA (Table 1 – IRS Single Life Expectancy Table), divide the previous year-end account balance by the divisor (beneficiary’s life expectancy) corresponding to their respective age in the year following the death. This divisor is the IRS’s actuarial-based remaining life expectancy for the beneficiary, so each year, the divisor will decrease by 1, causing an increase in the percent of the account balance taken for the RMD.

The IRS provides a list of distribution options available to inherited IRA owners. Distribution options vary depending on whether the beneficiary was a spouse or non-spouse, and also whether the IRA owner passed away before their required beginning date (RBD), which is April 1 after they turn 70½. (more…)

A Call for Education Planning


College fund savingsSuccessful families agree that higher education is essential to the success of future generations, and they also realize that costs are only going to continue to rise. If paying for your children or grandchildren’s tuition is a must (similar to a liability), and you know the exact number of years until they start undergraduate or graduate school (their investment horizon), why not approach saving for their education like you would saving for retirement?

One such way to tackle this goal is through the use of 529 college savings plans. 529s are unique in that there are no income restrictions on contributions, and the contributions can grow and be withdrawn tax-free as long as the distributions go toward qualified expenses (tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and equipment). However, the benefits to your family go much further.

In addition to providing Roth-like advantaged growth and withdrawals, 529 plan assets are also removed from the owner’s estate. This means if a parent or grandparent, who owns a 529 plan with a family member as a beneficiary, were to pass away, the value of the 529 plans would not be included in their gross estate1. And, the total contributions as of 2016 to individual 529 plans can be as high as $235,000 to $452,210 (Pennsylvania) per beneficiary, depending on which state you choose to open the plan. (more…)

Have you written your letter of instruction?

image036Maybe you’ve heard of this before. A letter of instruction is a document you write to your executor and family that contains your personalized wishes and instructions for settling your estate. Although it does not carry any legal authority, a letter of instruction can be used to provide tremendous added detail about your financial affairs that doesn’t fit within a will or trust.

One of the most important purposes of a letter of instruction is to lead the person in charge of settling your estate through the process step by step. A good letter of instruction should contain the following:

  • Detailed list of your assets and belongings.
  • Copy of your monthly budget.
  • Login ID and password list.
  • Contact information for financial professionals and beneficiaries.
  • Location of important documents such as the will, trust, deeds, birth certificate, tax returns, bank statements, bills, life insurance, etc.
  • Creditor statements for any mortgages, credit cards or other loans.
  • Location of keys for house, auto or safe deposit box.

A key function of the letter of instruction is to specifically indicate which household belongings go to which heirs. Your will and/or trust will generally only address big ticket items. Through the letter you can decide who receives the family albums, the silverware, stamp collection, artworks or family knickknacks. Providing clear guidance can keep your family from devolving into arguments and resentment when emotions and grief run high.

Burial Arrangements

You can also use a letter of instruction to tell your family how and where you would like to be buried or cremated. You can be as elaborate as you desire. If you want, you can choose funeral readings, pick your flowers, charitable donations, etc. You can even prewrite your own obituary here, so be creative. Whatever your desires, putting your wishes in writing will help reduce guesswork and potential arguments among those who will handle these arrangements when the time comes.

Other Advantages

If desired, you may use the letter of instruction to voice personal requests and your expectations for how your heirs use their inherited assets. After all, these were your possessions! Some people also include their personal values, in a section known as the “ethical will,” which allows you to pass your core values and beliefs down to your family and beneficiaries.

Another benefit of this letter is that you can augment your living will with regard to end of life care, providing more detail about the circumstances under which you want to be kept alive or taken off of life support. This can be very helpful in reducing stress or uncertainty for your family if the health care directive or living will lacks this detail.


Remember, a letter of instruction does not replace a will, durable power of attorney or living will. If you don’t already have these documents in place, you should have them drawn up by a qualified estate planning attorney. A letter of instruction can be a fantastic tool to articulate your final wishes and decisions for your executor and heirs. Be sure to update it periodically and file it along with your other estate planning documents. At its heart, the letter of instruction is a last gift of your voice that you leave to your family, so make it count.