Do Name Changes Need to Be Reflected in Estate Planning Documents?

When names change, executed documents with the person’s prior name can become problematic. For example, what about a daughter who was named as a health care representative by her parents several years ago, who marries and changes her name? Then, to make matters more complicated, add the fact that the couple’s daughter-in-law has the same first name, but a different middle name. That’s the situation presented in the article “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan” from nwi.com.

When a person’s name changes, many documents need to be changed, including items like driver’s licenses, passports, insurance policies, etc. The change of a name isn’t just about the person who created the estate plan but also their executors, heirs, beneficiaries and those who have been named with certain legal powers through power of attorney (POA) and health care power of attorney.

It’s not an unusual situation, so there are some different solutions that can address this situation. It’s pretty common to include additional identifiers in the documents. For example, let’s say the will says, “I leave my house to my daughter Samantha Roberts.” If Samantha gets married and changes her last name, it can be reasonably assumed that she can be identified. In some cases, the document may be able to stay the same.

In other instances, the difference will be incorporated through the use of the acronym AKA—Also Known As. That is used when a person’s name is different for some reason. If the deed to a home says Mary Green, but the person’s real name is Mary G. Jones, the term used will be Mary Green A/K/A Mary G. Jones.

Sometimes when a person’s name has changed completely, another acronym is used: N/K/A, or Now Known As. For example, if Jessica A. Gordon marries or divorces and changes her name to Jessica A. Jones, the phrase Jessica A. Gordon N/K/A Jessica A. Jones would be used.

However, in the situation where the sisters-in-law had such similar names, most attorneys want to have the documents changed to reflect the name change. First, the names are too similar, as are their relationships with the testator. It is possible that someone could claim that the person wished to name the other person. It may not be a strong case, but challenges have been made over smaller matters.

Second, the document being discussed in the case above is a healthcare designation. Usually, when a health care power of attorney form is being used, it’s in an emergency. Would a doctor make a daughter prove that she is who she says she is? It seems unlikely, but the risk of something like that happening is too great. It is much easier to simply have the document updated.

In most matters, when there is a name change, it’s not a big deal. However, in estate planning documents, where there are risks about being able to make decisions in a timely manner or to mitigate the possibility of an estate challenge, a name change to update documents is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of trouble in the future.

Reference: nwi.com (October 20, 2019) “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan”

Sharing Legal Documents and Passwords

While parents are alive and well is the time to prepare for the future, when they begin to decline. An adult child who is a primary agent may have questions about organizing documents and managing storage in a digital format, as well as how to secure their passwords for online websites. The advice from the article “Safe sharing of passwords and legal documents” from my San Antonio is that these two issues are evolving and the best answers today may be different as time passes.

Safe and shareable password storage is a part of today’s online life. However, passwords used to access bank and investment accounts, file storage platforms, emails, online retailers and thousands of other tools used on a desktop require passwords that are increasingly complex and are difficult to remember. In some cases, facial recognition is used instead of a password.

Many rely on their internet browsers, like Chrome, Safari, etc., to remember passwords. However, this leaves accounts vulnerable, as many of these and other browsers have been hacked.

The best password solutions are stand-alone password managers. They offer the option of sharing the passwords with others, so parents can provide their agents and executors with access to their list. However, there are also new laws regarding digital assets, so check with your estate planning attorney. You may need to create directives for your accounts that specify who you want to have access to the accounts and the data that they contain.

Storage of legal documents is a separate concern from password-sharing. Shared legal documents need to be private, reasonably priced and secure.

Some password managers include document storage as part of the account. The documents can be uploaded in an encrypted format that can be accessed by another person, who is assigned by the account owner.

Document vault websites are also available. You will have to be extremely careful about selecting which one to use. Some of the websites resell data, which is not why you are storing documents with them. One company claims to offer a “universal advance digital directive,” which they say can provide digital access worldwide to documents, including an emergency, critical and advance care plan.

The problem? This company is located in a state that does not permit the creation of a legally binding advance directive, unless it is in writing, includes state-specific provisions and is signed in front of either two qualified witnesses or a notary.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about securing estate planning documents and how to protect digital assets. Their knowledge of the laws in your state will provide the family with the proper protection now and in the future.

Reference: my San Antonio (October 14, 2019) “Safe sharing of passwords and legal documents”

How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

Estate planning is a critical part of financial planning, but it is something that many Americans prefer to procrastinate about. However, drafting a will, health care proxy, and power of attorney are too important to leave to chance, says Next Avenue in the article “How to Find a Good Estate Planner.” An experienced estate planning attorney can help prevent critical mistakes and help you adjust your plan as circumstances change.

Here are a few tips:

Look for an estate planning attorney. This is not the same as a real estate attorney. An attorney who practices real estate law is not going to be up to date on all of the latest changes to estate and tax laws. You should also determine if the attorney deals with families who are in similar situations as yours. An attorney who works with family-owned businesses, for instance, will be more helpful in creating an estate plan that includes tax and succession planning for small business owners, whereas an attorney who works with special needs trusts will be more informed on drafting those.

Experience matters in this area of the law. The laws of your state are just one of the many parts that the attorney needs to know by heart. The estate planning attorney who has been practicing for many years will have a better sense of how families work, what problems crop up when it comes time to execute these plans, and tips on how to avoid them.

Ask about costs. Don’t be shy. You want to be clear from the start what you should expect to be spending on an estate plan. The attorney should be comfortable having this discussion with you and your spouse or family member. Remember that the attorney will be able to understand the scope of work only after they speak with you about your situation. What may seem simple to you, may be more complicated than you think.

If a trust is added, the fees are likely to increase. A trust can be used to avoid or minimize estate taxes, avoid probate, save on time and court fees and create conditions for the distribution of assets after you die.

A full plan includes incapacity documents. Don’t neglect to have the attorney create a Power of Attorney form and any other advance directives you need. These vary by state, and you don’t want them to get too old, or they may become out of date.

Recognize that this is an ongoing relationship. Make sure that you are comfortable with the attorney, how the practice is run and the people who work there—receptionist, paralegals and other associates at the firm are all people you may be working with at one point or another during the process. You will be sharing very personal information with the entire team, so be sure it’s a good fit.

This is not a one-and-done event. Having an estate plan is a lot like having a home—it requires maintenance. Every four years or so, or when large events occur in your life, you’ll need to have your estate plan reviewed.

Your estate planning attorney should become a trusted advisor who works hand in hand with your accountant and financial advisor. Together, they should all be looking out for you and your family.

Reference: Next Avenue (September 10, 2019) “How to Find a Good Estate Planner”

Don’t Forget to Update Your Estate Plan

There are some people who sign their will once in their life and never change it. They may have executed their estate plan late in life, or after they were diagnosed with a serious disease. However, even if your family life and finances are pretty basic, there are still changes in the law that you may need to incorporate into your estate plan.  Some of the people that you named in your will could also have died or moved away.

Forbes’ recent article, “Why You Should Change Your Will Now,” warns us that if you’ve taken the “one and done” approach to your estate plan, think again. In addition to the reasons already mentioned, your assets may have changed dramatically since you signed your will and other estate plan documents. The plan you put in place years ago may not have considered new federal and state estate taxes. Now that you’ve accumulated significant wealth that will be passed on to your children, you might need to review your plans for that wealth for your children.

You may want to include grandchildren to help pay for their college education. It is also not uncommon for parents to want to protect their children from themselves. This can be because of addiction issues or a lack of financial literacy. If that’s an issue, some parents elect to hold monies in trust for adult children, as a way to ensure that the funds will be there throughout the child’s lifetime.

A person’s estate plan should grow with them over time. An estate plan for a twenty-something may be very basic, but a newly-married couple will want to include provisions for their spouse. Parents need to think about providing for and protecting their children. Adult children have another set of concerns and you need to prepare for the possibility of divorcing spouses, poor life choices, addiction issues, and just poor money management. There are many stages in life when you may need to readjust the provisions for your children in your estate planning documents.

If you haven’t looked at your estate plan in a while, do it now.

Reference: Forbes (August 27, 2019) “Why You Should Change Your Will Now”

Dividing Property for Married or Maybe-Not-So-Married Spouses

When a marriage doesn’t work out, the couple that wishes to become “un-married” must undergo the legal process of divorce. While a legal separation and divorce can sever the legal ties that bind a couple, very often couples neglect to tidy up and make the separation or divorce final. In that case, says The Pasadena / San Gabriel Valley Journal’s article “Ties that Bind,” they are still married.

The couple may be married in name only, or even estranged from each other, but legally, they are still married, which means that the law still sees them as a married couple as it relates to their rights and obligations towards each other and their property.

Surprisingly, there are many instances where a person dies and after the funeral, when the estate is being settled, it is revealed that the couple was still married. The decedent may have separated from his or her spouse years ago, but they never got legally divorced. Sometimes this is because neither party really wants to bring things to a conclusion. In other instances, they may not want to devote the time or resources to the divorce process, which can be both expensive and painful.

Many of us have also heard of cases where the couple was contemplating divorce, after recognizing that the marriage was no longer working, and one of the spouses died before the legal separation or divorce was obtained.

It is important to remember that marriage is a key factor when it comes to inheritance rights.

The law does not make a distinction between couples who been have separated for decades and those who are happily married. The only question that matters in the eyes of the courts is what the deceased spouse’s status was on the day that she or he died. There are only three answers to that question:

  • Married
  • Divorced
  • Legally Separated

Unless a person has done estate planning and has a will and trust, the spouse is entitled to receive a certain amount of their property. If the decedent lived in a state with community property, like California, the spouse is entitled to receive all the community property (which includes anything earned or acquired during the course of the marriage) and a portion of the separate property.

One of the first things a couple contemplating divorce should do immediately is have their estate plan done, especially in a community property state. This will allow them to make decisions about inheritance, just in case one of them dies before the proceedings are completed.

Marital status is also something that matters in the case of life and death decisions. If a person has a serious accident or becomes ill, a not-yet-divorced spouse may be the only person that the medical team will speak with. When divorce is on the horizon, part of estate plan concerning incapacity must also be addressed: an Advanced Care Directive, also known as a Living Will.

It often takes years to complete a divorce, and many things can happen in the interim. Unless you want your estranged spouse or someday-to-be ex-spouse making decisions and sharing property with you, sit down with an estate planning attorney to outline your wishes and make sure you are protected, even before the divorce is finalized.

Reference: The Pasadena / San Gabriel Valley Journal (Aug. 7, 2019) “Ties that Bind”

How Do I Discuss My Parents’ Long-Term Financial Goals With Them?

A recent study by Ameriprise Financial found that more than one-third of adult children say they haven’t had a conversation about their parents’ long-term financial goals. Even though discussing this delicate topic may seem uncomfortable, addressing it now can help avoid challenges and uncertainty in the future. To that end, the Ameriprise Family Wealth Checkup study found that individuals who talk about money matters feel more confident about their financial future.

The Enterprise’s recent article, “Four financial questions to ask your parents,” provides some questions that can help you start the dialogue.

“What do you want to achieve in the next five or 10 years?” Understand your parents’ aspirations for the next few years. This includes their personal and financial goals and when they plan to retire (if they haven’t already). Do they want to move closer to their grandchildren or to warmer weather? Getting an idea of how they want to spend their time will help you know what to expect in the years ahead.

“Where is your financial information located in case of an emergency?” An incident can happen at any time, so it’s essential that you know how to access key personal, financial and estate planning documents. You should have the contact info for their financial adviser, tax professional, and estate planning attorney, and be sure your parents have the right permissions set, so you can step in when the need arises. You should also ask your parents to share the passwords for their primary accounts or let you know where you can find a password list.

“How do you see your legacy?” Talk to your parents about how they want to be remembered and their plans for making that happen. These components can be essential to the discussion:

  • Ask them if they have an updated will or trust, and if there’s anything they’d like to disclose about how the assets will be distributed.
  • Health care choices and expenses are often a big source of stress for retirees. Talk to your parents about their current health priorities and the future and have them formalize their wishes in a health-care directive, which lets them name a loved one to make medical decisions, if they’re unable to do so.

“How can I help?” Proactively offering to help may get rid of some of the frustrations or relieve stress for even the most independent and well-prepared parents. The assistance may be non-financial, like doing house projects or giving them more time with their grandchildren. You should also look into including an attorney in the discussion, in case your parents have estate planning questions.

Retirement and legacy planning can be complex. However, taking the time to have frequent conversations with your parents can help you all prepare for the future.

Reference: The Enterprise (August 19, 2019) “Four financial questions to ask your parents”

Leaving a Legacy Is Not Just about Money

A legacy is not necessarily about money, says a survey that was conducted by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Ave Wave. The study surveyed more than 3,000 adults, with 2600 of them being 50 or older. The study also incorporated focus groups where participants were asked about end-of-life planning and leaving a legacy. The article, “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have” from The Voice, shared a number of the participant’s responses.

A total of 94% of those surveyed said that a life well-lived is about “having friends and family that love me.” 75% said that a life well-lived is about having a positive impact on society. A mere 10% said that a life well-lived is about accumulating a lot of wealth.

The study highlights that people want to be remembered for how they lived, not what they did at work or how much money they saved. Nearly 70% said they most wanted to be remembered for the memories they shared with loved ones. And only 9% said career success was something they wanted to be remembered for.

While everyone needs to have their affairs in order, especially people over age 55, only 55% of those surveyed reported having a will. Only 18% have what are considered the three key essentials for legacy planning: a will, a health care directive and a durable power of attorney.

The will addresses how property is to be distributed, names an executor of the estate and, if there are minor children, names who should be their guardian. The health care directive gives specific directions as to end-of-life preferences and designates someone to make health care decisions for you if you can’t. A power of attorney designates someone to make financial decisions on your behalf when you can’t do so because of illness or incapacity.

An estate plan is often only considered when a triggering event occurs, like a loved one dying without an estate plan. This is often a wake-up call for the family once they see how difficult it is when there is no estate plan.

Parents aged 55 and older had interesting views on leaving inheritances and who should receive their estate. Only about a third of boomers surveyed and 44% of Gen Xers said that it’s a parent’s duty to leave some kind of inheritance to their children. A higher percentage of millennials surveyed—55%—said that this was a duty of parents to their children.

The biggest surprise of the survey: 65% of people 55 and older reported that they would prefer to give away some of their money while they are still alive. A mere 8% wanted to give away all their assets, before they died. Only 27% wanted to give away all their money after they died.

Reference: The Voice (June 16, 2019) “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have”

How Do I Have the Financial Talk with My Parents?

GOBankingRates recently released a survey that found that 73% of Americans haven’t had conversations with aging parents about their finances. Moreover, 22% of the survey’s respondents said they never plan to have this talk with their parents, because they believe their finances are none of their business.

That’s a really big mistake.

Forbes’ recent article, “What You Don’t Know About Your Parents’ Finances Could Ruin Yours” says that if you don’t take the time to chat to your parents about their finances, your own finances could be affected. This is because there’s a good chance you’ll have to get involved with your parents’ financial lives, as they age. This can impact your own financial well-being, if you aren’t ready for that task.

As Americans are living longer, there’s an increased risk of health issues, which can lead to significant financial consequences. About 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is becoming increasingly prevalent as people live longer. The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to more than double to 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

However, just 5% of adults ages 55 to 60 have long-term care insurance, and only 11% of adults 65 and older have it. Long-term care insurance helps cover the cost of care in an assisted-living facility, nursing home or even at home. Medicare doesn’t pay for this sort of care–which easily runs well over $8,000 a month.

If you and your parents don’t talk about how to pay for any care they might need, you could become your parents’ long-term care plan. That could mean you pay these expenses or stop working to help care for a parent.

Those who haven’t had detailed discussions with their parents about their finances can anticipate facing a larger burden than those who have been able to help their parents start managing their money better, by having discussions with them.

If you have siblings, it is important for all the children to be on the same page regarding the parents’ finances and long term care plans. This will help everyone involved be better prepared.

Another important reason to talk to your parents about their finances sooner rather than later, is to see if they have a will, power of attorney and living will or advance health care directive. If they don’t, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. The sooner you address these issues, the better.

Reference: Forbes (July 17, 2019) “What You Don’t Know About Your Parents’ Finances Could Ruin Yours”

Advance Planning Key for Alzheimer’s Patients

A retired physician and his wife have allowed a local television station to report their family’s journey with Alzheimer’s over the course of the last four years. The series continues with WCCO CBS Minnesota’s article “All Lined Up Before You Need It’: Alzheimer’s Association Shares Steps for Estate Planning,” with four steps to take if you notice that a family member is having memory lapses or trouble with simple tasks.

The Quinn family—Dr. Paul Quinn and his wife Peg—had some tough conversations years ago. This was a period when Paul’s memory was better, and when he was able to be completely honest with his wife about his wishes and what the couple would need to do moving forward.

Peg Quinn said that getting everything lined up long before it’s needed is very important.

If there’s any sign of cognitive decline, there are legal and financial steps that must be pursued. Start with addressing the family budget and projected medical costs for long term care. If possible, gather all family members together for a planning session.

If they live in different parts of the state, or of the country, ask the family members to travel for a weekend family meeting. This is the kind of planning that is better when everyone is physically present.

Start by naming a power of attorney. It needs to be someone who is aware of the situation and will be able to make decisions on behalf of the diagnosed individual. An estate planning attorney can assist in making this decision.

Next, establish an advance health care directive with a focus on medical decisions. This may be the toughest part since it is impossible to know how long someone will live with Alzheimer’s, or what kind of lifestyle that person would be living. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the average patient lives between four to eight years while suffering from Alzheimer’s. The cost of care can add up fast—as much as $5,000 to $7,000 a month in some cases.

That’s why the next step—selecting an elder law estate planning attorney is so important. Planning for long-term care, qualifying for Medicaid and other benefits, is a complex challenge.

Dr. Quinn expressed his wishes to stay in his home as long as possible. The familiarity of their home makes life much easier for both of them, so they agreed early on to have in-home care if it’s ever needed.

An estate planning attorney can help the family by drafting any necessary estate planning documents and creating a plan as early as possible. A trust must be created and executed before the person is legally incompetent. The same goes for a power of attorney and any health care power of attorney documents. Medicaid planning should be done as soon as possible since there is a five-year look-back period concerning transferring any assets.

Whether you or a family member just got a diagnosis or already in the throes of Alzheimer’s, consult an estate planning attorney to review any documents or arrangements to ensure that your affairs are in order and that you are prepared for the future.

Reference: WCCO CBS Minnesota (July 23, 2019) “’All Lined Up Before You Need It’ : Alzheimer’s Association Shares Steps for Estate Planning”

Prior Planning for Catasrophes

None of us know what kind of unexpected surprises will occur in our lives. We’d like to believe they will all be happy events, like winning the big Power Ball jackpot. However, unpleasant things like illness or a flood or fire often occur. We never think it will happen to us, says The Dalles Chronicle’s article “Prepare now for emergencies.” Unfortunately, these things do happen, and when they do, being prepared can make all the difference between a stressful situation and a really awful situation that could have been made, well, less awful.

For starters, have you met with an estate planning attorney to create a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will or trust, a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney? The will/trust concerns distribution of your possessions and property, the power of attorney gives a trusted person the ability to take financial and legal actions on your behalf in the event that you become incapacitated, and the medical power of attorney allows someone to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated. There are also many other tools that an estate planning attorney can help you with, such as a Special Needs Trust, if your family includes a family member with special needs, or other trusts if they are needed.

Next, your emergency preparations should include having important documents assembled in a notebook, on a memory stick and/or a safe location. Imagine there was an emergency evacuation and you had to leave your home immediately. What documents would you need? Here’s a helpful checklist to look at:

  • Contact information for family members, doctors, attorneys, dentist, insurance broker, financial advisor.
  • Cash, so if ATMs are not working, you will have cash on hand.
  • Identification documents, including originals of your birth certificate, marriage license, divorce papers, passport, Social Security card, health insurance cards (or Medicare or Medicaid cards).
  • A video of your home and all of your possessions on your mobile phone. Consider emailing it to a family member or friend who lives in a different location.
  • Insurance policies for home, auto, disability, long-term care, etc. Include contact information for either 800-numbers or your local agent, if you need to file a claim.
  • A copy of recent financial statements for credit cards, banks, brokerage firms, retirement accounts, car loans, mortgage and similar types of accounts.
  • Copies of the last three years of tax returns. If you work with a CPA, they should have them on a secure portal, but a hard copy will be useful to have.
  • Legal documents for your estate plan, including the will, power of attorney and health care power of attorney, as described above.
  • Other legal documents, including car registration, car title and property deed to your home.

These documents should all be organized in a folder that is placed in your home where you and your spouse know where it is and can grab it on your way out the door.

One more item that should be noted in this digital age: if you use a laptop or tablet that contains websites that you use frequently for personal finance, investments, etc., be mindful of its location in the house, so you can grab it (along with a charger cable) quickly. If you have passwords for accounts—and most of us do—you should print them out and include them in your file folder for easy access. You can almost always re-set a password, but how much easier will rebuilding your life be if you have them on hand?

If you do ever face a catastrophic emergency, having these materials will save you hours of time and stress.

Reference: The Dalles Chronicle (July 16, 2019) “Prepare now for emergencies”