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By Michael Vosilla
Senior Associate

Estate planning includes preparing legal documents outlining what happens to a person’s property after their death. When preparing an estate plan, a person may focus on determining what to do with property, such as cash, vehicles, or jewelry. However, many people own assets that can present unique challenges during estate planning. Here’s a closer look at some of those assets, the challenges they may present, and how an estate planning attorney can help you overcome them.

Real Estate

Real estate can pose challenges in estate planning for various reasons. First, real estate often represents the most valuable assets in a person’s estate. Having real estate assets can push one’s estate over the limit to trigger estate taxes. Second, bequeathing real estate in an estate plan can become tricky when a property has multiple owners, especially if the owners own the property as a joint tenancy. Estate plans can address real estate through various means, including using trusts or titling property to avoid probate

Business Ownership Interests

People with business interests can face complex challenges when accounting for those interests in their estate plans. Passing on a business ownership interest may not prove easy when the business has multiple partners who may not want to continue in business with a deceased partner’s relative. Passing on ownership interests in family businesses can also trigger significant personal and legal disputes among family members. Business owners must carefully consider succession planning as part of their estate plans to ensure the smooth disposition of their ownership interests. 

Retirement Accounts

Incorporating one’s retirement accounts and assets in estate planning will involve complex legal and tax considerations. Retirement accounts typically do not pass through probate. Tax-advantaged retirement accounts also have strict rules for transferring or using account funds. Breaking those rules can lead to hefty tax liabilities. An experienced estate planning lawyer can advise you on options or strategies to help you pass on retirement accounts, such as making beneficiary designations if available for your account. 

Digital Assets

Most people nowadays own various digital assets without realizing it. Today, many estate administration disputes arise over what to do with a deceased person’s digital assets, such as social media accounts. Fortunately, many social media platforms and other websites hosting digital assets incorporate features that allow holders to pass on assets more efficiently after death. Estate plans should handle digital assets by including documentation enabling estate administrators or heirs to access those assets, such as records of usernames and passwords. 

Intellectual Property Rights

Passing on the rights to intellectual property (IP), such as patents and copyrights, can involve unique legal issues. Transferring ownership of IP after death may require filing paperwork with government offices that keep records of IP ownership. Furthermore, valuing intellectual property for estate tax purposes can lead to legal disputes during estate administration. 

Cryptocurrencies and Alternative Investments

Cryptocurrencies and other alternative investments, such as NFTs, have become popular in recent years. However, including cryptocurrencies and alternative investments in estate plans can pose some challenges for estate accounting or tax purposes, including valuing assets that don’t have a liquid market. Cryptocurrency holders must also plan how to provide their estate administrator and heirs access to assets without jeopardizing the owner’s secure access during their lifetime. 

Sentimental Personal Items

Deciding what to do with sentimental items or other valuable personal items, such as jewelry, artwork, or antiques, can prove challenging during estate planning. Family members can get into heated disputes over who will receive cherished heirlooms or whether each family member has received a “fair” share. Careful estate planning can avoid future problems or disputes by clearly communicating who will receive one’s sentimental items and the reasons for those decisions – for example, does an item spark a specific memory with an individual family member? 

Contact an Estate Planning and Administration Lawyer Today

If you own complex assets, working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you protect and pass on those assets to loved ones while minimizing time and financial costs. Contact LaFountain & Wollman P.C. today for an initial consultation to discuss your legal options for handling complex assets in your estate plan.

About the Author
Attorney Michael Vosilla is LaFountain & Wollman, P.C.’s Senior Associate, who currently resides in Brighton. As an immigration lawyer, Attorney Vosilla has secured green cards and citizenship for countless clients, and he is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).