Estate Planning and Legacy Law Center, PLC

What to Do with the Family Heirlooms and Keepsakes

When most people think of estate planning, they think of assets that include money, real estate, and personal property. But, included in someone’s estate could be invaluable personal property, such as family heirlooms or keepsakes. This type of property should not be overlooked in your estate plan just because it may not have a high dollar value because it still has sentimental value that cannot be quantified. Part of a thorough estate plan is determining how you want these priceless family heirlooms and keepsakes distributed once you are gone.

Issues You May Face

An “heirloom” is a particular piece of personal property passed down from one generation to the next, and will continue to be passed down for generations to come. Be sure to talk about the family heirlooms and keepsakes with your family so that feelings and expectations regarding these items are out in the open. Also think about having your heirlooms and keepsakes appraised, if possible, by someone reputable so you can provide your heirs with the necessary documentation and so the items can be appropriately identified in your estate planning.

How to Distribute

When it comes to family heirlooms and keepsakes the typical division plans may not work. If the item is of low dollar value, there may not be a way to monetarily equalize the distributions. This can also be the case if the dollar value of the keepsake is incredibly high compared to the value of the remaining estate. Furthermore, if there is only one of such an item, there is no way to split one item between multiple people. Whether it’s great-grandfather’s WWI medals, the cherished family crystal, or your mother’s pearls, you will need to decide the best way to distribute these assets based on your unique family situation. Regardless of who receives these items, they are usually distributed by way of a personal property memorandum in those states that permit this practice.

The personal property memorandum allows you to express your wishes and avoid the hard feelings that could come about by leaving all of the personal property equally to your children. This document is a written statement regarding specific property; the document is then referenced in your last will and testament or living trust and identifies who should inherit what property. This document also has the added benefit of being able to be modified or revised without the need to execute a new will or amend your trust. However, please remember, items listed in a personal property memo must be personal property – not real estate, cars, or bank accounts.

Gifting During Life

Because of the sentimental nature of family heirlooms, you may want to consider gifting these items during your lifetime instead of waiting until your death. If you gift your family heirlooms and keepsakes during your lifetime, there is a personal joy in witnessing your loved one receiving the family treasure. That being said, be careful of gift tax issues that may be incurred depending on the value of the item. Another concern that you may want to address depending upon the value of the family heirloom is whether or not this lifetime gift should be considered part of the recipient’s share of your eventual estate.

Estate Planning Advice

A comprehensive estate plan that considers all assets – including family heirlooms and keepsakes – is key to making sure your wishes are followed once you are gone. Contact us to learn about your options under applicable law and to ensure that all of your assets, no matter the monetary value, are covered under your estate plan.

When is “Living Probate” Necessary?

If you become incapacitated, who is going to take care of you? You will not be able to make medical decisions for yourself and you will not be able to manage your day-today affairs. If you do not have the appropriate estate plan in place, your family may be headed to the probate court long before you are deceased.

Conservatorship or Guardianship Proceedings

In some states a living probate is referred to as a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. When someone is unable to manage his or her own affairs – often due to illness or older age – family members may need to seek court intervention to appoint a conservator or guardian. This court-appointed individual is authorized to make financial decisions on behalf of the incapcitated person; the same person or sometimes a different individual also appointed by the court will take over control of everyday matters including medical decisions. These living probate proceedings are public, time-consuming, and expensive.

Avoiding Living Probate

While there are several ways to avoid living probate, the best way to do so is quite simple – do the planning and appoint someone to handle your estate planning matters. This includes putting together a medical power of attorney that designates an individual you would like to make medical decisions for you on your behalf when you are unable to do so. Likewise, a financial power of attorney can designate an individual to make financial decisions for you when you cannot. You can choose to appoint the same person for both roles or different individuals – it is up to you. It is important to note that some financial institutions have their own forms that must be completed to designate someone to access your account on your behalf.

Seek Estate Planning Professionals

Because time can be of the essence when dealing with medical or financial issues, it is crucial that you have the appropriate documents prepared to facilitate these transactions when you are unable to participate. An experienced estate planning attorney can help guide you through this process and draft your documents so that they follow all applicable formalities to ensure validity.

Is Your Estate Plan as Stale as Last Week’s Ham Sandwich?

Estate plans are almost magical: They allow you to maintain control of your assets, yet protect you should you become incapacitated. They take care of your family and pets. And, if carefully crafted, they reduce fees, taxes, stress, and time delays. Estate plans can even keep your family and financial affairs private. But one thing estate plans can’t do is update themselves.
Estate plans are written to reflect your situation at a specific point in time. While they have some flexibility, the bottom line is that our lives continually change and unfold in ways we might not have ever anticipated. Your plan needs to reflect those changes. If not, it will be as stale as last week’s ham sandwich and may fail miserably when needed the most.
If anything in the following 5 categories has occurred in your life since you signed your estate planning documents, call us now to schedule a meeting. We’ll get you in ASAP to make sure you and your family are still protected.

Marriage, Divorce, Death. Marriage, remarriage, divorce, and death all require substantial changes to an estate plan. Think of all the roles a spouse plays in our lives. We’ll need to evaluate beneficiaries, trustees, successor trustees, executors/personal representatives, and agents under powers of attorney.

Change in Financial Status. A substantial change in financial status – positive or negative – generally requires an estate plan update. These changes can be the result of launching, winding down, or selling a business; business and professional success; filing bankruptcy; suffering a medical crisis; retiring; receiving an inheritance; or, even winning the lottery.

Birth, Adoption, or Death of a Child / Grandchild. The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild may call for the creation of gifting trusts, 529 education plans, gifting plans, and UGMA / UTMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act / Uniform Transfers to Minors Act) accounts. We’ll also need to reevaluate beneficiaries, trustees, successor trustees, executors/personal representatives, and agents under powers of attorney.

Change in Circumstances. Circumstances change. It’s a fact of life – and when you’re the beneficiary or fiduciary of an estate plan, those changes may warrant revisions to the plan. Common examples include:

  • Children and grandchildren attain adulthood and are able to serve in trusted helper roles (successor trustee, executor/personal representative, and agent under powers of attorney)
  • Relationships change and different trusted helpers need to be named
  • Beneficiaries or trusted helpers develop overspending or drug / gambling habits
  • Guardians, executors, or trustees are no longer able (or no longer wish) to serve in their previously assigned roles
  • Beneficiaries become disabled and need a special needs trust to receive government benefits
  • Guardians for minor children divorce, move to a new state, or are otherwise no longer appropriate to serve

Changes in Venue. Moving from one state to another always warrants an estate plan review, as states’ laws differ. Changes may be needed to ensure that you’re taking full advantage of – and not being penalized by – your new state’s laws. This is also true when purchasing a second home outside of your state.

Estate Plans Are Created to Help, Not Hurt, You
Old estate plans get stale just like old sandwiches do. You wouldn’t rely on last week’s ham sandwich for lunch; please don’t rely on your estate plan from yesteryear. If you’ve experienced any of the changes we’ve mentioned in this article, it’s time to come in and chat. We’ll review your estate plan and make sure you and your loved ones are protected.  EPLLC offers a Legacy Protection Plan that helps keep our firm and it’s clients on the same page.

The Disability Integration Act of 2019: Saving Independence

Aging oftentimes leads to the need for assistance. Elders in our communities face the difficult decision whether it is time to seek out a long-term care (LTC) facility for maintaining health and safety. But, what if LTC facilities were not the only accessible option?

LTC facilities have been established to provide care services to those that need more than what they, or their families, can arrange. Deciding to transition into long-term care is a difficult one. Residents certainly relinquish many rights and conveniences that they have become accustomed to while living independently. LTC facilities are expensive and often families are left with few options on covering costs.

Some communities provide alternative services to afford individuals with the opportunity to remain in the community instead of entering LTC. Services such as meal preparation, housekeeping, medication management, and personal care services are some possible offerings in these areas. Not all states or counties provide these services – forcing seniors-in-need prematurely into LTC facilities. LTC is not only expensive for the residents, but for the insurance providers, like Medicaid, and the states that cover them.

The Disability Integration Act of 2019 (DIA)

Renewed interest in offering alternatives to LTC have recently developed within Congress. The Disability Integration Act of 2019 (DIA) was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives on January 15, 2019. The bill has since been referred to the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the House’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Justice. Prior similar efforts were not successful, but advocates hope to pass this law on the anniversary date of the Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, of this year.

Purpose and Benefits of DIA

DIA will require insurance providers in all states to make in-home based services available as an alternative to institutionalization for disabled or elderly individuals. While it could be said that all residents in LTC may be disabled in some way, not all disabled individuals need long-term care. Some of these individuals may qualify for LTC because of various difficulties with Activities of Daily Living (ADL). ADLs include eating, toileting, grooming, dressing, bathing, and transferring. These limitations may restrict one’s ability to manage certain areas of their care, but it does not necessarily mean that entry into LTC is appropriate. Other factors leading towards eligibility for LTC are the need for help with Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), including shopping, cooking, money management, and others.

An elder with diminished capacity due to a disability may be able to accomplish most of the ADLs but is unable to effectively handle IADLs on their own. The DIA may provide the assistance needed for such individuals to safely stay in the community, rather than face the often undesired entry into an LTC facility. The DIA will give elders and others with disabilities with the options for maintaining independence.

In Olmstead v. L.C.527 US 581 (1999), the United States Supreme Court found that segregating the disabled into LTC was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Court held that public entities must provide individuals with disabilities community-based services if those services were appropriate, the disabled person is agreeable to community-based services, and those services can be reasonably accommodated.  Furthering the inspiration behind the Olmstead case, the DIA will establish an intermediate route for individuals that will minimize limitations for these groups.

Future Impacts of DIA

It is unimaginably difficult to make the decision to enter a loved one into LTC. Even more challenging is deciding how to proceed when your loved one is functional in some areas, but deficient in others. There is also difficulty when the family and the loved one disagree on the level of care needed going forward. The DIA may provide a reprieve for families, and those in need of care, facing these challenges.

Sec. 2.(a)(5) of the bill reminds us that, “[S]tates, with a few exceptions, continue to approach decisions regarding long-term services and supports from social welfare and budgetary perspectives, but for the promise of the ADA to be fully realized, States must approach these decisions from a civil rights perspective.” While potentially costly to implement at first, states could find huge savings in the long term, due to lower costs of providing in-home versus institutionalized care. Rather than Medicaid funded LTC costs, states would have the opportunity to provide less invasive care dependent upon an individual’s needs – not a predetermined base cost per resident. In-home care employment needs would rise and offset the lesser need for care providers within formal care facilities.

In Sum

The Disability Integration Act of 2019 is a bill advocating for a universally implemented system of care services intended to keep elders and individuals with disabilities from prematurely entering LTC. States would be required to offer services to such individuals that allow them to maintain their status in the community through independent living. This is big news for those lost in the grey area between independence and LTC residency. Individuals eligible for LTC will have access to services that may prolong their independent status. The DIA has great potential to make an enormous difference in the lives of elders and disabled individuals in our communities.

Trump’s 2020 Budget Proposal

 

A few days ago, President Trump released his budget proposal for 2020. While the $4.75 trillion budget detailed expenses for all federal departments, agencies, and administrations, let’s take a look at how the proposed budget would impact seniors and Veterans.

Medicaid

Trump’s proposed budget would cut $1.5 trillion from Medicaid spending over the next 10 years.

Work Requirements

The proposed budget details that work requirements would become standard in Medicaid eligibility requirements across the United States. Able-bodied, working-age Medicaid recipients would be required to work, train for work, or volunteer in order to be eligible for Medicaid or welfare benefits, including food stamps and federal housing support.

Many states have already begun the Section 1115 waiver process for Medicaid work requirements. Seven states already have waivers approved – Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. Another eight states have such waivers pending – Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. Arkansas was the first state to successfully implement work requirements. As of December 2018, 18,164 recipients lost Medicaid coverage due to the new rules.

Block Grants

While block grants were shot down in 2017 by Congress, Trump has once again renewed his interest in changing the federal funding of Medicaid from a pay-as-needed system to a set block amount. Block grants cap the amount of federal funding for each state. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mr. Azar, agreed that block grants could not guarantee that Medicaid recipients could keep their coverage. Mr. Azar has indicated that he will strongly consider Section 1115 waivers for block grants.

Eligibility

The proposed budget would decrease the home equity allowance for Medicaid eligibility and would require documentation for legal immigration status before the receipt of benefits. The proposal does contain any further details on these requirements, such as what the new home equity limit would be.

Social Security and Medicare

Federal expenditures for Social Security and Medicare are estimated to make up 70% of the federal budget. The proposed budget decreases funding for social security – a $25 billion cut over the next 10 years. This includes a $10 billion cut to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. President Trump claims that cutting down on fraud will make up this amount, while opponents are claiming that many will be cut from the program or benefits will decrease.

Under the proposed budget, funding for Medicare would decrease by about $800 billion over the next 10 years. The White House contends that Trump is not gutting Medicare, but instead is making changes to cut drug prices. This is where the proverbial savings would come in. Trump’s plan entails modernizing Medicare Part D drug benefits, reducing costs for Part B drugs, and increasing access to generic drugs through greater competition. Opponents of the budget state that Trump is making cuts to Medicare to make up for the revenue shortfalls created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Veterans

The proposed budget calls for a 7.5% increase in spending for health care for Veterans over the 2019 amount. The budget claims to fully support the VA MISSION Act of 2018 by providing Veterans a “greater choice on where they receive their healthcare – whether at VA or through a private healthcare provider.” A new urgent care benefit would be instituted, where Veterans can receive urgent care at facilities in their communities.

The budget carves out money for use to improve the online interface and access between the Veteran and the VA. This would include an overhaul to the network infrastructure, a transition by the VA to the cloud, and other IT updates. In addition, the Electronic Health Record System could continue to evolve, which is a digital record system for patient data.

Mental Health Needs

Mental illness affects folks from all walks of life, including seniors and Veterans. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 43.8 million Americans experience mental illness in any given year. That’s one in five adults. Trump’s proposed budget intends to increase access to mental health services, including funding for programs and investments that provide 24-hour crisis response services, school violence prevention, suicide prevention, and services that provide help for the seriously emotionally ill and children with serious emotional disturbances.

Conclusion

President Trump states in his proposed budget that the federal government is running at a net deficit of $608 billion. The net deficit averaged $759 billion from 2010-2016. How does he plan to address this? By cutting funding for Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare, among other things. Proponents say that spending needs to be reined in; opponents don’t want changes to these programs that affect our poor and elderly.

While the proposed budget is indicative of the Trump administration’s objectives and priorities, it may have little impact on actual spending levels, which are controlled by Congress. Democratic leaders in both chambers pronounced Trump’s proposed budget dead on arrival. So, while the above changes to Medicaid and other programs are not necessarily in our future, it is important to note the intent of the administration and to be a part of the community discussion regarding such matters. We will keep an eye on upcoming developments regarding the proposed budget and any changes that may affect seniors, Veterans, and those with disabilities.

Paying for Long-term Care: Who Foots the Bill?

It is tough enough for a client to make the decision to enter a loved one into long-term care – but then throw in complicated contracts, lack of legal understanding, and a whirlwind of emotional turbulence and your client can easily be overwhelmed. What happens when the loved one doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, or cannot pay for services through other means? After the contracts are signed, and the loved one is tucked into their new abode, who might be on the hook for the proverbial financial hot-potato?

Nursing Home Contracts

Contracts can be incredibly intimidating for clients, particularly when dealing with the need for placing a loved one into another’s care. When a loved one needs long-term or nursing care, someone will have to take on the responsibility to read, understand, and sign a contract with the facility for their services. That person can be the individual, a family member, a Power of Attorney for the individual, a social worker, or any other person assuming the responsibility for the individual. Thankfully, being responsible for an individual does not necessarily require financial responsibility, too.

Nursing home contracts cover the facility’s expectations for payment, rules, and other details. These contracts educate the individual and/or their representative of what to expect from the facility as well – such as services provided, covered expenses, and other costs. Within these contracts are also provisions regarding financial responsibility that must be carefully reviewed. A responsible party could find themselves financially liable for their loved one’s bill if they improperly sign such provisions.

While nursing home contracts are no longer permitted to solicit alternative sources of payment, some such contracts still exist. Signing such a provision puts a client at odds for a lengthy and expensive court battle to show that their agreement to accept financial responsibility was invalid. The applicable rules can be found at 42 CFR  483. More specifically,  42 CFR § 483.15 covers Admission, Transfer, and Discharge Rights; § 483.15(a)(3) specifically states that long-term care facilities are prohibited from requesting or requiring that a third party take on financial responsibility for their loved one’s care.

Remember, just because a facility is not permitted to seek out a financially responsible party other than the resident, this does not mean that someone cannot willingly take on such responsibility. In other words, any competent person can sign a loved one into care and take on the burden of ultimately footing the bill – but, the last thing anyone would want to do is take it on accidentally. Be sure to advise clients to read and understand all contracts, but certainly take care with regard to contracts for costly medical care services for an individual in your care. Encourage clients to seek your counsel before signing nursing home contracts. Blindly signing a contract because it seems like the only way to get your loved one the services they need is not their only option. A facility, understandably, will seek out the satisfaction of debts from whomever they are legally entitled to pursue.

Meridian Nursing and Rehabilitation INC. v. Skwara (2019) UNPUBLISHED OPINION

A recent New Jersey appellate court decision declared that a son was not personally liable for the debt incurred by his incapacitated mother after entry into a long-term care facility. The defendant, Mr. Skwara, signed the entry paperwork on behalf of his mother, who no longer possessed the capacity to sign for herself. He proceeded to file the necessary paperwork for her possible Medicaid eligibility, but she was subsequently denied for being “over-resourced”. He filed an appeal in which the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that she was ineligible, not specifically for having too many assets, but because of two recent transfers of assets that disqualified her from eligibility. The ALJ submitted his findings to the relevant social services board to determine the penalty period.

Mr. Skwara appealed to the Department of Human Resources on behalf of his mother. The director disregarded the ALJ’s findings and determined that his mother was ineligible due to excess resources. There were some complicated factors involving business and investment properties mutually owned by mother and son, in which valuable assets had been transferred and mortgaged. While the ALJ focused on this transfer as the reason for ineligibility based on a transfer penalty, the Director of the Department of Human Services concluded that these resources, and the partly-owned business Mr. Skwara and his mother owned together, were resources to be included in Medicaid eligibility criteria.

The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the facility and opined that because Mr. Skwara signed the legally valid contract as the responsible party, he did not appeal the Director of the Department of Human Resources’ decision, nor did he submit any additional applications, he should be held responsible for the several years his mother had been institutionalized.

The appellate court found that because the director focused her efforts on defendant’s mother having too many assets, and not that Mr. Skwara’s mother transferred a possible gift, a remedy for such a breach is not up for determination. The court also found that Mr. Skwara’s responsibility in this endeavor was to follow through with providing all necessary paperwork and information needed for Medicaid eligibility – not a responsibility to pay from his own pocket.

Further, the court determined that it was also Mr. Skwara’s responsibility to liquidate his mother’s assets following the determination of her ineligibility. However, due to the complicated layering of interests in the pair’s business, it was arguably not feasible to liquidate the company. Mr. Skwara offered the facility his mother’s interest in the business as payment, but the facility rejected the offer. The court also mentioned that had the facility taken the offer, not only would it have been compensated, but the sale would also have qualified defendant’s mother for Medicaid as well. The court remanded the case to determine if the sale of the business was feasible and if any income came from the business to Mr. Skwara’s mother. Lastly, the issue of the contract’s validity was not precluded from further review.

Financial Responsibilities

Whoever ends up taking on the financial liability for long-term care costs will be responsible for securing payment from wherever possible to cover the expenses. This process typically entails lining up Medicaid assistance, selling assets, and making sacrifices along the way. Financially responsible parties will be expected to liquidate whatever assets are available to cover the bill. If the assets are not substantial enough to cover what is owed, the facility can seek repayment from the individual’s estate upon death.

Residents in long-term care also have legal rights to appropriate care. 42 CFR § 483.15(c) discusses various rights regarding transfers and discharging. Long-term care facilities cannot transfer or discharge a resident unless they meet certain criteria. Discharge or transfer is permitted when:

  • The facility cannot meet the needs of the resident,
  • The resident’s health has improved to where services are no longer needed,
  • The resident poses safety or health risks to others,
  • The resident fails to submit the necessary paperwork to qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, is denied such benefits, and refuses to self-pay, or
  • When the facility ceases to operate.

Thus, a facility must try to work with residents and their families to provide the best solution for all. Residents are entitled to the opportunity to appeal a decision to end services. If a family feels that their loved one has been unfairly denied further services, contact the state ombudsman for long-term care and consider other remedial action.

In Conclusion

Taking steps to place a loved one into care is not easy – mentally or logistically. There are many hurdles to overcome during the process. As elder law attorneys, we can help our clients understand the basics of Medicaid procedure and requirements and the sometimes-complicated nuances of the long-term care facility struggle. We can help clients who feel overwhelmed by the process or feel that they are not succeeding on their own in working with Medicaid, long-term care facilities, healthcare providers, or the like. Loved ones deserve the care they need and there are resources to help make them affordable – without a family member footing the bill himself.

Wills, Trusts & Dying Intestate: How They Differ

 

Most people understand that having some sort of an estate plan is a good thing. However, many of us don’t take the steps to have an estate plan prepared because we don’t understand the nuances between wills and trusts – and dying without either.

 

Here’s what will generally happen if you die, intestate (without a will or trust), with a will, and with a trust. For this example, we’re assuming you have children, but no spouse:

 

  1. If you should die intestate, your estate will go through probate and all the world will know what you owned, what you owed, and who got what. Your mortgage company, car loan company, and credit card companies will all seek payment on balances you owed at the time of your death.

 

After that, state law will decide who gets what and when.

 

  • For example, your state’s intestate statute may mandate divvying up proceeds equally among your children.
  • Your older children will get their shares immediately if they’ve attained adulthood.
  • But, the court will appoint a guardian of its choosing to manage the money for your minor children until they become adults and possibly a separate guardian to raise your minor children.
  • Shockingly, that guardian can charge a lot of money to manage the money for your minor children and be a total stranger – as can the guardian who raises your minor children.
  • If you die without a valid will, the court, not you, will decide the futures of your minor children.

 

Keep in mind that since your death has been published to alert valid creditors, it’s possible for predators (fake creditors) to come forth and make demands for payment – even if they’re not owed anything.

 

The bottom line? Dying intestate allows state law and the court to make all the decisions on your behalf – regardless of what your intent might have been. Publicity is guaranteed.

 

  1. If you die with a valid will, your assets will still go through the probate process. However, after creditors have been satisfied, the remaining assets go to whom you’ve identified in your will.

 

  • If you want to leave money to your children and name a guardian for the minor ones, the court will usually abide by your wishes.
  • The same holds true if you specified that you wanted to give assets to a charity, your Aunt Betty, or your neighbor.
  • Keep in mind that predatory creditors are still an issue as your death has been publicized. Even with a will, probate is a public process.

 

The bottom line? While a court oversees the process, having a will allows you to tell the court exactly how you want your estate to be handled. But, a public probate is still guaranteed.

 

  1. If you’ve created a trust, you’ve taken control of your estate plan and your assets. Trust assets are not subject to the probate process and one of the most important benefits of trusts is that they are private. Although notices to creditors may be published, most of the other details (your assets, who is receiving what, etc.) remain private, helping your family minimize the risk of predators.

 

As part of the trust drafting process, you’ll have named a trustee to manage your estate, when you are no longer able to, and provide him or her with specific instructions on how your assets should be dispersed and when.

 

  • One word of caution – trusts must be funded in order to bypass probate.
  • Funding means that your assets have been retitled in the name of your trust.
  • Think of your trust as a bushel basket. You must put the apples into the basket just as you must put your assets into the trust for either to have value.

 

Even if you have a trust prepared, you  still need a will to pour any assets inadvertently or intentionally left out of your trust and to name guardians for minor children. However, this type of will is much shorter and less complicated than one that is responsible for disposing of all of your assets to your beneficiaries.

 

The bottom line? Trusts allow you to maintain control of your assets through your chosen trustee, avoid probate, and leave specific instructions so that your children are taken care of – without receiving a lump sum of money at an age where they are more likely to squander it or have it seized from them.

 

Don’t let the will versus trust controversy slow you down. Call our office today so we can answer any questions you may have and put together an estate plan that works for you and your family whether it be a will, trust, or both.

Consider “Micro” Estate Planning in the New Year

 

You are probably familiar with the idea and benefits of traditional estate planning: eliminating probate fees, lowering tax liabilities, and providing financial peace of mind and security for your loved ones. If you do not currently have an estate plan, you should consider getting one as soon as possible.

 

But while many are aware of traditional estate planning techniques, they may not be familiar with the more short-term planning approach—often referred to as “micro” estate planning. As the New Year approaches, now is a great time to sit down and put your short-term wishes in a legal document.

 

“Micro” Estate Planning Explained

 

Simply put, traditional estate planning focuses on the big-picture—putting together and planning for long-term goals. “Micro” estate planning, on the other hand, looks to short-term needs and how to address them—such as an expected absence, property needs during an illness, or even temporary care of children or pets. Accordingly, “micro” estate plans are simpler and more flexible than traditional estate plans and can be updated more frequently to meet your needs at the moment. A copy of your “micro” estate plan can be stored along with your other traditional estate planning documents and can also be kept in a visible and accessible place in your home.

 

One major benefit of “micro” estate planning is that it can fill in any gap and meet any need that your traditional estate plan cannot address. For example, who will take care of your minor children or pets in the immediate days or hours after your passing or incapacity before legal guardianship is transferred and established by a court? This is particularly important because without a legal document instructing what should happen and/or whom should be contacted in the event of your death or incapacity, law enforcement may be required to contact child protective services. This is also an important issue for pet owners because your pet may need immediate care and you do not want your beloved pet to end up at a local animal shelter. Planning for a minor child or pet to stay with a trusted neighbor or other person while the guardian is contacted can be the best way to protect your loved ones immediately.

 

Contact an Estate Planning Attorney

 

As with traditional estate plans, “micro” estate planning can help you plan ahead for the “what if” situations that may arise during your lifetime. Make sure to take this opportunity to create or update your estate plan and speak with an experienced estate planning attorney today to learn about your options under applicable law. We are here to answer any questions you may have and to help you plan for any circumstance that may arise.

 

Estate Planning...A must whether you have a little or a lot!

 

While everyone is celebrating during this holiday season, the manner of these celebrations can vary based on differing family traditions, religions, and geographic regions. Estate planning is no different—protecting your family’s future must be customized to fit your and your family’s unique needs. No matter your level of wealth, it is important to understand that the reasons for estate planning are universal.

 

Estate Planning Basics

 

There are several reasons why an estate plan is necessary for everyone. Some of these include protecting beneficiaries, sidestepping probate, protecting assets from creditors, and avoiding a mess in the event of incapacity or death. Estate planning gives you the tools to specify what happens to you, your assets, and even your loved ones should you pass away or be unable to handle your own affairs.

 

Regardless of your motivations for establishing your estate plan, one important need is appointing the right fiduciaries (agent under a power of attorney,  successor trustee, and patient advocate) who will make medical and financial decisions for you when you are unable. The creation of a will or trust can lay out who receives your property and how. They can also be used to appoint a pet caretaker who can ensure that your furry family member is taken care of when you are gone. Likewise, a guardian nomination lets you determine who will care for your minor or special needs children or family members. Finally, determining what values you want to pass along to family members, friends, or other loved ones can be spelled out in a number of ways including an ethical will, an incentive trust, or a charitable plan.

 

A major benefit of having an estate plan put together—no matter how much wealth you may have—is to minimize costs. Having your estate go through probate—which is the court-supervised process of the distribution of assets—can result in attorneys’ fees, court costs, appraisals, and other expenses. This financial cost is in addition to the length of time it can take to administer an estate—from several months to several years depending on the circumstances.

 

Do Not Wait

 

Life can be full of surprises—what you leave behind for your family and loved ones should not be left to chance. For this reason, everyone should have an estate plan in place to ensure the security of their family’s future. Contact us today to learn more about your options.

Your 5 Task Year-End Estate Planning To-Do List

 

2019 is fast approaching.  As we all prepare for the holidays and a new year, it is important that we wrap up any loose strings.  Before entering into the new year, here are some things that need to be on your end of year checklist:

 

  1. Make Sure Your Estate Planning is Up To Date

 

Will or Trusts

 

Now that the federal estate tax exemption is fixed at $10 million per person adjusted for inflation ($11.18 million in 2018), it is important that you review your estate planning to ensure that it still makes sense. For example, when reviewing your estate planning documents, look for such terms as “Marital Trust,” “QTIP Trust,” “Spousal Trust,” “A Trust,” “Family Trust,” “Credit Shelter Trust,” or “B Trust.” With the exemption amount so high, it may not be necessary to utilize these planning strategies anymore.

 

In addition, you will want to make sure those individuals you have appointed to serve as your fiduciaries (successor trustee, agent under a financial power of attorney, patient advocate, trust protector, etc.) are still able to act on your behalf if the need arises.

 

Lastly, if your family has gone through any changes such as a birth, death, marriage, divorce, etc., you will want to double check the distribution scheme in your will or trust to make sure that the beneficiaries are still those you would like to leave assets to.

 

Health Care Directives

 

While the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (known as “HIPAA” for short) was enacted in 1996, the rules governing it were not effective until April 14, 2003.  Thus, if your estate plan was created before then and you have not updated it since, you will definitely need to sign new health care directives so that they are in compliance with the HIPAA rules.

 

With that said, it’s possible that health care directives signed in 2003 or later lack HIPAA language, so check with us just to make sure that your estate plan documents reference and take into consideration the HIPAA rules.

 

Financial Power of Attorney

 

How old is your Power of Attorney? Because of liability risks, banks and other financial institutions are often wary of accepting Powers of Attorney that are more than a couple of years old.  This means that if you become incapacitated, your agent may have to jump through hoops to get your stale Power of Attorney honored, if it can be done at all. This could cost your family valuable time and money.

 

And, several states have enacted new laws governing Powers of Attorney.  If you want to increase the likelihood that your Power of Attorney will work without any hitches, then redo your Power of Attorney every few years so that it doesn’t end up becoming a stale and useless piece of paper.

 

  1. Check Your Beneficiary Designations

 

Another area of estate planning that needs revisiting at the end of the year are your beneficiary designations on any life insurance, retirement accounts, bank accounts, vehicles, or real estate.  If you have previously completed the forms for any of these assets, you should review them to ensure the beneficiary named is still the person(s) you want receiving the assets.

 

If you have not done so already, you also should make sure that your estate planning attorney has this information as well.  Because a beneficiary designation may overrule any provisions you have in your will or trust, it is important that your designations and other estate planning documents all match and carry out your objective instead of having contrary intents.

 

  1. Gather Tax Documents for 2018 Income Tax Return

 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made several changes to the tax code, which may make filing your income taxes for 2018 a little different.  Because of these changes, it would be prudent to spend a little extra time collecting the necessary paperwork to show your income and any deductions you may be claiming instead of waiting until the last minute.

 

  1. Review Car and Homeowners Insurance Policies

 

Everyone likes to save money and an easy way to do so is to call you insurance agent.  Analyze the coverage you currently have for your home and car to see if you are properly covered and to see if there are any additional savings available to you.  Sometimes, you can save money by having more than one policy through an insurer.  You may also be able to get a reduction on your rates if you have not filed any claims within a specific period of time.  You never know unless you ask.

 

  1. Review Your Paycheck Withholdings

 

When it comes to your 401(k), IRA, and Health Savings Account, the federal government allows you to contribute a maximum amount per year pre-tax.  As we approach the end of the year, it is a good idea to review how much you have contributed and see if you are able to give more.  Because this is done pre-tax, it is a good way to put more money away for your retirement or future medical needs while saving some money on your tax bill now.

 

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