How to Plan for Long-Term Care Costs

The odds are that most of us will need long-term care. At least 52% of those over age 65 will need some type of long-term care at some point in our lives, according to a study conducted by AARP. As most of us are living longer, we’ll probably need that care for a longer period of time, as reported in the article “It’s best to plan for long-term care” from the Times Herald-Record.

Many people 55 and older tend to believe that they might be in the group that won’t need any sort of long-term care. Here’s the problem: ignore this issue, and it won’t go away. It is true that turning a blind eye can be tempting because the size of the problem makes it a bit overwhelming, and the cost to tackle it seems unsolvable. However, not addressing it becomes even more expensive. How can we possibly pay for long-term care insurance?

Here’s a simple example: a 64-year-old woman fell and broke her ankle in three places. She was otherwise healthy and mobile prior to the fall. However, a badly broken ankle required extensive rehabilitation and she was not able to stay in her home. She has been living at a rehabilitation center and the costs are mounting. What could she have done?

There are two basic ways (with a number of variations) to pay for long-term care.

The first and most obvious: purchase a long-term care insurance policy. Only 2.7 million Americans own these policies. They are wise to protect themselves and their families.

Most families put off buying this kind of insurance because it’s expensive at any age and stage. The average cost is about $2,170, according to the Kiplinger Retirement Report, for about $328,000 worth of insurance. That rate varies, and it should be noted that if you have a chronic condition, you may not be able to purchase a policy at all.

If local nursing homes costs $216,000 per year and you have $328,000 of coverage, the numbers make it obvious that you will likely run out of coverage before your needs are fully met. The average nursing home stay is about two years. As boomers age, the cost of long-term care insurance is rising, while benefits are becoming skimpier, says Kiplinger.

There are some alternatives: a hybrid life insurance plan that includes long-term care coverage.  However, those can be more expensive than regular long-term care insurance, with the cost sometimes being about $8,000 a year for a 55-year-old and about $13,000 for a 65-year-old.

Another choice: a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. For best results, you’ll need to work with an estate planning attorney to create and fund this trust long before you actually need it. Your assets must be placed in the trust at least five years before an application to Medicaid, which will then pay for your care. You don’t have to live in complete poverty to do this. If the care is for one person, the applicant is permitted to keep a certain amount of assets, which vary depending on your specific state laws (in California, that amount is $2,000). The Medicaid rules also provide a number of noncountable resources, which means that those items won’t be counted against your asset limits. This includes a home, the value of retirement accounts, and term life insurance.  The spouse may also keep assets of their own up to about $120,000, although this number also varies by state.

However, what if you have money to pay or need long-term care before you put assets in trust? If you live in New York, Florida and Connecticut, you have what is called “spousal refusal.” The spouse of the person in long-term care can choose not to pay for their cost of care. This can get complicated, and Medicaid will try to get funds for the care. However, an estate planning elder law attorney can negotiate the amount of payment, which may leave the bulk of your estate intact.

These are complicated matters that become very costly, often at a time when you and your family are least able to deal with yet another issue. Speak with an estate planning attorney before you need the care and learn how they can help you protect your spouse and your assets.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 22, 2019) “It’s best to plan for long-term care”

How Joint Tenancy Creates Problem for Seniors

How Joint Tenancy Creates Problem for Seniors
cheerful young woman helping an old person doing paperwork and telephone call

Parents putting children or other family members as joint owners of their assets is another example of what seems like a simple solution for a complex problem. It doesn’t work, even though it seems like it should.

As explained in the article “Beware the joint tenancy trap” from Monterey Herald, putting another person on an account, even a trusted child or life-long friend, can create serious problems for the individual, their estate, and their heirs. Before going down that path, there are several issues to consider.

When another individual is placed as an owner on an account or on the title to real property, they have legal ownership in that property equal to that of the original owner. This is called joint tenancy. If a child is made a joint tenant on a parent’s accounts, they would be entirely within their rights to withdraw every single asset from those accounts and do whatever they wanted with them. They would not need the original owner’s consent, counsel, or knowledge.

Giving anyone that power is a serious decision.

Making a child a joint owner of assets also exposes those assets to claims by the child’s creditors. If they file for bankruptcy, the original asset owner may have to buy back one-half of the asset at its current market value. Another example: if the child is in an accident and a judgment is recorded against the child, you may have to buy back one-half of your joint tenant property at its current market value to settle the claims.

There are other complications that come with the title. If one joint owner of the asset dies, joint tenancy provides for the right of survivorship. The property transfers to the surviving joint tenant without going through probate and with no reference to a will. Even though it can bypass the probate process, it means that the distribution won’t necessarily follow what the parent intended in his estate plan. If the parent dies and the asset transfers directly to the joint tenant—let’s say a daughter—but the will says the assets are to be split between all of the children, her claim on the asset is “senior” to the rest of the children. That means she has the right to keep all of the assets that were held in joint tenancy and all four siblings split the remaining assets.

If there is any friction between siblings, not having equal inheritances could create a fracture in the family that can’t easily be resolved.

Tax exposure is another risk of joint tenancy. When someone is named a joint owner, they have the original owner’s cost basis. When one owner dies, the remaining owner gets a step up in basis only on the proportion of the assets the deceased person owned at death.

Let’s say a son and father are joint owners on an account. When the father dies, the son gets a step-up in basis on one-half of the assets—the assets that the father owned. However, the son’s half retains the original basis. In contrast, if that account was owned solely by the father, all the heirs will inherit the property with a full step-up in basis on the father’s death.

Given the complexities that joint tenancy creates, parents need to think very carefully before putting children’s names on their assets and real property. A better plan is to make an appointment to speak with an estate planning attorney and find out how to protect the parent’s assets through other means, which may include trusts and other estate planning tools.

Reference: Monterey Herald (Sep. 11, 2019) “Beware the joint tenancy trap”

Why Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

People often wonder why they would need a Power of Attorney, also known as a POA.

Fed Week’s article, “Giving Someone the Power of Attorney,” uses the example that you might suffer a stroke with no prior warning signals and be unable to sign your name. This could mean serious financial consequences. However, executing a POA can protect you in that kind of situation.

It’s important for just about everyone to have a POA. You can name more than one attorney-in-fact, stipulating if they are permitted to act alone or if they must act in concert.

Of course, the individual you designate must be someone you trust. This is typically a close (albeit younger) member of the family or a close friend. You might nominate both of your children as attorneys-in-fact, requiring that they agree to act on your behalf under a power of attorney.

If desired, you can assign different responsibilities to different individuals. For instance, you can name your spouse to make your housing decisions and your son to manage all your financial affairs.

You may not want to give power over your assets to a family member, while you’re still in command of your faculties (or have capacity). To address this, many states recognize what are called springing powers of attorney. These powers do not become effective until specified events take place, like incompetency (certified by a doctor) or when you go into a nursing home.

If your state doesn’t recognize springing powers, you often can see the same result with a durable power of attorney that’s accompanied by a letter saying that the power will go into effect, if certain events occur. For example, in Florida, contingent or “springing” powers of attorney are not permitted after legislation was passed in 2011.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney in your state, who can help you understand the type of POA your state laws allow. He or she can also keep these signed documents until they’re needed. Your attorney will also know if the law also provides that powers of attorney properly executed under the laws of another state are recognized in your state of residence.

Reference: Fed Week (October 3, 2019) “Giving Someone the Power of Attorney”

How Does Power of Attorney Work?

Questions often arise about how different estate planning documents work together, and they are frequently very good questions. Powers of Attorney (POA) are some of the most commonly used estate planning documents and they are also some of the most misunderstood estate planning documents, says nwi.com in a recent article “Estate Planning: Do Powers of Attorney lapse?”

A POA is a document that authorizes another person to act on behalf of the person making or signing the document. The person named in a POA can also be referred to as the Attorney-in-Fact, or AIF. The authority granted to the AIF is usually spelled out in the document itself. Some POA documents grant a wide range of authority, while others are limited to a specific action. An estate planning attorney can create a POA that suits a person’s particular needs, which is far better than a generic document that may not be accepted because it is too broad.

There are also different types of POAs. Durable POAs usually do not terminate upon a person’s incapacity and are frequently drafted for the purpose of caring for a person in case they are incapacitated. There are also other limited or special POAs that only work for a specific date or time frame. At the end of that time frame or upon that date, the POA terminates.

It’s important to note, however, that all POAs terminate upon the death of the maker or principal. The only power that can survive after the death of the maker is the authority to dispose of the maker’s remains, and that varies by state. This means that the POA will not nominate an executor, and cannot do anything to give someone authority over your body or your property after you die.

A POA can also be terminated at any time by the principal. This termination should be in writing, and it can be terminated by revoking the POA within the terms of a new POA, or by execution of a revocation. Either way, the person should notify the AIF that they no longer have the authority to act under the revoked POA, and any entity who may have a copy of the revoked POA should be notified that it is no longer valid. The revocation can also be recorded at the county recorder’s office. An estate planning attorney in your state will know what rules apply in your area.

When a POA was created is also important. Although a POA signed years ago is still legally valid, estate planning attorneys often look at the date of execution for the simple fact that banks and other financial institutions are reluctant to accept POAs that were created too long ago. In that case, institutions sometimes will require an affidavit affirming that the document is still valid and that the AIF has the authority to act under it.

However, it is recommended that when you have your estate plan reviewed every three or four years, you also have your estate planning attorney update the Power of Attorney. This way there is less of a chance that a bank or other institution will balk at the document. The same goes for your health care proxy, also known as a Health Care Power of Attorney.

Reference: nwi.com (November 3, 2019) “Estate Planning: Do Powers of Attorney lapse?”

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”

Remaining Fair in Estate Distribution

Treating everyone equally in estate planning can get complicated, even with the best of intentions. What if a family wants to leave their home to their daughter, who lives locally, but wants to be sure that their son, who lives far away, receives his fair share of their estate? It takes some planning, says the Davis Enterprise in the article “Keeping things even for the kids.” The most important thing to know is that if the parents want to make their distribution equitable, they can.

If the daughter takes the family home, she’ll need to have an appraisal of the home done by a certified real estate appraiser. Then, she has options. She can either pay her brother his share in cash, or she can obtain a mortgage in order to pay him.

Property taxes are another concern. The taxes vary because the amount of the tax is based on the assessed value of the real property. That is the amount of money that was paid for the property, plus certain improvements. In California, property taxes are paid to the county on one percent of the property’s “assessed value,” also known as the “base year value” along with any additional parcel taxes that have become law. The base year value increases annually by two percent every year. This was created in the 1970s, under California’s Proposition 13.

Here’s the issue: the overall increase in the value of real property has outpaced the assessed value of real property. Longtime residents who purchased a home years ago still enjoy low taxes, while newer residents pay more. If the property changes ownership, the purchase could reset the “base year value,” and increase the taxes. However, there is an exception when the property is transferred from a parent to a child. If the child takes over ownership of the home, they will have the same adjusted base year value as their parents.

If the house is going from the parents to their daughter, it seems like it should be a simple matter. However, it is not. Here’s where you need an experienced estate planning attorney. If the estate planning documents say that each child should receive “equal shares” in the home, each child receives a one-half interest in the home. If the daughter takes the house and equalizes the distribution by buying out the son’s share, she can do that. However, the property tax assessor will see that acquisition of her brother’s half interest in the property as a “sibling to sibling” transfer. There is no exclusion for that. The one-half interest in the property will then be reassessed to the fair market value of the home at the time of the transfer—when the siblings inherit the property. The property tax will go up.

There may be a solution, depending upon the laws of your state. One attorney discovered that the addition of certain language to estate planning documents allowed one sibling to buy out the other sibling and maintain the parent-child exclusion from reassessment. The special language gives the child the option to purchase the property from the other. Make sure your estate planning attorney investigates this thoroughly, since the rules in your jurisdiction may be different.

Reference: Davis Enterprise (Oct. 27, 2019) “Keeping things even for the kids”

Wishing you and yours a joyful day

Season’s Greetings from the Goff Legal Team!

It’s that time of year again – where time seems to move at lightning speed to the end-of-year.

With the holidays right around the corner, this post is to provide you an overview of upcoming office hours and closures in the event you were thinking about contacting the office to schedule an appointment.  The office will remain sensitive to urgent matters and emails or voicemails received, however, please assist our office in accommodating for the hectic holiday season.

Our office will be closed and unavailable for the dates as follows:

November 2019

December 2019January 2020
11/28/2019 (Th) through 11/29/2019 (F)12/24/2019 (Tu) through 12/31/2019 (Tu)

01/01/2020 (W)

If you find yourself having gone through a lot of big changes in your life and want to make updates to certain parts of your estate plan or across all of your documents, my office would be more than happy and able to assist in scheduling an appointment with me or my associate attorney, Maureen Chang. (Yes, our office now has had another attorney to assist with client needs since January 2019 in case you have not yet been updated with our office news!)

As always, thank you for your continued support and interest in our local business; we look forward to continuing to serve our clients and the local region with effective and efficient legal services.

My staff and I wish you a safe and jolly holiday season and Happy New Year!

Your Spouse Just Died … Now What?

There are several steps to take while both spouses are alive and well, to help reduce the chance of the surviving spouse finding themselves in a “financial deadlock” situation, or worse. The preparations require the non-financially dominant partner to be involved as much as possible, says Barron’s in the article “How to Avoid Financial Deadlock—or Worse—After One Spouse Dies”

Step one is to prepare the financial equivalent of a “go-bag,” like the ones people are supposed to have when they must leave their home in a crisis. That means a list of all financial contacts, advisors, estate planning attorney, accountants, insurance professionals and copies of all beneficiary designations. There should also be a list or a spreadsheet of all the couple’s assets and liabilities, including digital assets and passwords to these accounts. The spouse should also note the location of financial records and critical legal documents, including insurance policies, wills, and trusts.

Each partner must have access to checking and cash independently of the other, and the spouses need to review together how assets and accounts are titled.

It is especially important for both spouses to be on the deed to their home with right of survivorship, so that the surviving spouse can easily prove that they are the sole owner of the home after the spouse dies. Otherwise, they may not be able to communicate with the mortgage company. If a surviving spouse must go to court and file probate in order to deal with the home, it can become costly and more stressful.

It’s not emotionally easy to go through all this information but it is critical for the surviving spouse’s financial security.

Any information that will be needed by the surviving spouse should be documented in a way that is easily accessible and understandable for the spouse. Even if someone is very organized and has a well-developed description of their assets and estate plan, it may not be as easily understood for someone whose mind works differently. This is especially true if the couple has had years where the non-financial spouse was not involved with the family’s assets and is suddenly digesting a lot of new information.

It is wise for the non-financial spouse to be in meetings with key advisors and take on some of the tasks like bill paying, reviewing insurance policies and reconciling accounts well before either spouse experiences any kind of cognitive decline. Ideally, the financially dominant partner takes the time to train the other spouse and then also have them handle the finances independently to the extent possible until they are both comfortable managing all the details.

Each spouse needs to understand how the death of the other will impact the household income. If one spouse has a pension without survivor benefits and that spouse is the first to die, the surviving spouse may find themselves struggling to replace that income. They also need to consider daily aspects of their lives, like if one spouse is highly dependent upon the other for caregiving.

Spouses are advised not to make any big financial or life decisions within a year or so of a spouse’s death. The surviving spouse is often not in a good emotional state to make smart decisions, and that is the time they are most at risk for senior financial abuse.

Both spouses should sit down with their estate planning attorney and discuss what will happen if either of them is widowed. It is a difficult topic but planning ahead will make the transition less traumatic from a financial and legal perspective.

Reference: Barron’s (Sep. 15, 2019) “How to Avoid Financial Deadlock—or Worse—After One Spouse Dies”

Are You Prepared to Age in Place?

If aging in place is your goal, then long-term planning needs to be considered. Some things to think about include how the house will function as you age, whether there will be accommodations for the people who will care for you, and how to pay for the care that you might need, says the Record Online in the article “Start planning now so you can ‘age in place.’”

Many homes will need to be remodeled for aging in place, and those changes could be big or small. Some changes that almost everyone has to consider include installing ramps and adding a bathroom and bedroom on the first floor. Smaller changes include installing properly anchored grab bars in the shower, improving lighting, and changing or updating the floor covering to avoid problems with walkers, wheelchairs or unsteady seniors.

Choosing a caregiver and paying for care is sometimes difficult to think about, oftentimes because they are intertwined issues. Many adult children become caregivers for aging parents, and for the most part, they are unpaid. Family caregivers suffer enormous losses, including lost work, career advancement, income, and savings. Stress and neglect of their own health and family is a common byproduct.

You’ll want to speak with an estate planning eldercare attorney about how or if the parent may compensate the child for their caregiving. If the parent is applying for Medicaid and the payment is deemed to be a gift, it will cause a penalty period, when Medicaid won’t pay for care. A caregiver agreement drafted by an elder law estate planning attorney will allow the parents to pay the children that provide them care without having it be considered a gift or triggering a penalty period. Keep in mind, though, that the child will need to report this income on their tax returns.

The best way to plan ahead for aging in place is to purchase a long-term care insurance policy. If you qualify for a policy and can afford to pay for it, it is a good way to protect assets and income from going towards caregiver costs. You can also relieve the family caregiver from duties or pay them for caregiving out of the insurance proceeds.

Without long-term care insurance, the next option is to apply for community and in-home care through Medicaid to pay for care in the home, if available in your state. To qualify, a single applicant can keep $15,450 in assets plus the house, up to an equity limit of $878,000 and only $878 per month of income. For a married couple, when one spouse applies for community Medicaid, the couple may keep $22,800 in assets plus the house and $1,287 per month of income. If the applicant or spouse is on a managed care plan, the couple may keep even more assets and income.

Another option is spousal refusal, which may allow the couple to keep more assets and income. When an applicant has too much income, a pooled income trust may be used to shelter income from going towards the cost of care. This is a complicated process that requires working with an estate planning attorney to ensure that it is set up correctly.

Self-paying for home care is another option, but it is expensive. The average cost of home health care in some areas is $25 per hour or $600 per day for around-the-clock care. When you get to these costs, they are the same as an expensive nursing home.

Planning in advance with careful analysis of the different choices will give the individual and the family the best picture of what may come with aging in place. A better decision can be made, once all the information is clearly assessed.

Reference: Record Online (Aug. 31, 2019) “Start planning now so you can ‘age in place’”

Am I Too Young to Think About Estate Planning?

It’s wise for younger generations to consider estate planning early, advises The Cleveland Jewish News in the recent article “Younger generations should focus on estate planning, too.” Don’t be fooled into thinking that an estate plan is only for older people or the ultra-wealthy. In fact, there are many younger adults who may need it, especially if they have been financially successful and also have experienced changes with marriage and families.

This is especially important for young people who are in committed relationships. A young married couple should talk together about their vision and goals for their financial, health, and legal affairs, in case something happens to one of them or within their families.

Estate plans provide some certainty in an otherwise uncertain life. There are many reasons to start early. One reason is that you never know what’s going to happen. You want to make certain that all of your assets are in place.

When creating an estate plan, there are a few things that younger people should consider, such as making sure all their accounts have named a beneficiary. This includes life insurance, retirement, and checking and savings accounts. These beneficiaries need to be reviewed on an ongoing basis and updated for life and family changes.

Many younger adults will be fine with just a will, a financial power of attorney, and a health care power of attorney. However, marriage is a time when people begin to have more complexity in their professional lives. This can include starting a business or becoming leaders at companies and that may require more complex and protective plans.

While younger generations are known to be independent and to try to meet all their needs online, estate plans should be treated differently. There are numerous online tools or ‘do-it-yourself’ strategies, but professional legal assistance can make it an easier and a more thorough process. Remember, when you meet with an attorney, you are not just getting the papers; you are also receiving their guidance and expertise, crafted to address the needs of your specific situation.

Start as early as you can and set the foundation for more complex planning that will come in the future. This preparation will mean less stress for those left behind after you pass away.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (September 19, 2019) “Younger generations should focus on estate planning, too”