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”

Spare Family Fights: Make a Will

Thinking about your own mortality can be something frightening that many people would rather not do, which makes something like creating a will a difficult thing to do. But if for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, everyone needs a will. Otherwise, the family might end up spending all their time fighting over who gets Aunt Nina’s sideboard or Uncle Bruno’s collection of baseball cards.

But whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place – and that includes a will – is a gift of peace we can give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight when they don’t have a clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept the possibility of their own death, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Not only should you think about who will get your assets, you should also be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a way that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

The will can also provide reassurance and protection in case you need to appoint a guardian for your children. Because of this, parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation with long-lasting and detrimental effects on your children and their relationships with their other family members. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will lets you tell the court what you want.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Only if you have these plans in advance can you express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced when you actually need them.

Reference: Fatherly (Feb. 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

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”

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”

Who Can You Really Trust for Your Financial Accounts?

Dramatically increased instances of elder financial abuse are behind a new question asked of seniors by their advisors these days: do you want to name a trusted contact on your account?

The financial industry’s regulatory authority now requires that member firms make an effort to have clients name a trusted contact person. It is not required that they do so, says Hometown Life in the article “Use a trusted contact to protect seniors from financial abuse,” but the question must be asked.

The older you are, the more seriously you should consider taking this step.

Let’s start by defining what a trusted contact is, and equally important, what a trusted contact is not. A trusted contact is not someone who can access or make financial decisions on your behalf. That is a person who has been named a Power of Attorney or POA. A trusted contact is a person that your financial advisor, brokerage house, or the financial company that holds your accounts can contact if they see signs that indicate that you are being financially exploited.

The trusted contact can also be a person who can confirm your mental or physical health status, a legal guardian, trustee, or your POA. Unless the trusted contact person is also the POA, the trusted contact person cannot see your account information or make trades for you.

Typically, people name a family member. However, research has sadly shown that family members are actually the ones most likely to be the abusers. Naming a trusted contact may call for you to think out of the box and consider someone who is not a family member. A trusted professional or a dear friend, preferably one who is younger than you, may be the best person for this task. You can also select two trusted contacts.

This is not a perfect solution to financial elder abuse. However, it is one more layer of protection. There is no 100% solution to a problem that affects seniors in every social and economic class. Nevertheless, naming a trusted contact is something that can be done to reduce the risk and is worth doing.

Other safeguards include having an estate plan, including a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney and trusts. Your estate planning attorney will be able to explain the many different types of trusts and how they can be used to ensure that you remain in control of your assets while protecting you from financial abuse.

Reference: Hometown Life ( August 15, 2019) “Use a trusted contact to protect seniors from financial abuse”

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”

Elder Law Estate Planning for the Future

Seniors who are parents of adult children can make their children’s lives easier by making the effort to button-down major goals in elder law estate planning, advises Times Herald-Record in the article “Three ways for seniors to make things easier for their kids.” Those tasks are: 1) planning for disability; 2) protecting assets from long-term care or nursing home costs, and 3) minimizing costs and stress in passing assets to the next generation.

Here’s what you need to do, and how to do it.

Disability Planning

Disability planning includes signing advance directives. These are legal documents that are created while you still have all of your mental faculties. Naming people who will make decisions on your behalf if, and when, you become incapacitated gives those you love the ability to take care of you without having to apply for guardianship, conservatorship, or other legal proceedings. There are many names for these advance directives, which include financial powers of attorney, health care powers, health care proxies, and living wills.

Your agent named in the financial power of attorney will make all and any legal and financial decisions on your behalf. In addition, if you use a power of attorney that is specifically drafted for long term care and benefits planning, the agent will have unlimited gifting powers that may save about half of a single person’s assets from the cost of nursing home care.

The agent named in the health care directive can make medical decisions, and you can also have language that advises your agent about how you want your body to be taken care of in the event you are incapacitated. If you want to list these separately, you can also use a health care proxy to name the person who can make medical decisions, and use a living will, to convey your wishes for end-of-life care, including resuscitation and artificial feeding.

When advance directives are in place, you spare your family the need to have a judge appoint a legal guardian to manage your affairs. That saves time, money and keeps the judiciary out of your life. Your children can act on your behalf when they need to, during what will already be a very difficult time.

Protect Assets

Goal number two is protecting assets from the cost of long-term care. Losing the family home and retirement savings to unexpected nursing costs is devasting and could be minimized or avoided with the right planning. The first and best option is to purchase long-term care insurance. If you don’t have or can’t obtain a policy, the next best is the Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT) that can be used to protect assets in the trust from nursing home costs, after the assets have been in the trust for five years.

Have a Trust

The third thing that will make your adult children’s lives easier, is to have a trust that dictates where you want your assets to go after you die. A trust lets you leave assets to the family as you want, with the least amount of court costs, legal fees, taxes and family battles over inheritances. It also allows for the estate to be settled quicker, which will in turn also be easier for your children. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to have a trust created.

Think of estate planning as part of your legacy of taking care of your family, ensuring that your hard-earned assets are passed to the next generation. You can’t avoid your own death or that of your spouse, but you can prepare so those you love are helped by thoughtful and proper planning.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 13, 2019) “Three ways for seniors to make things easier for their kids”

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”

How to Complete a Transaction if One Spouse is Incapacitated.

An elderly married couple wished to sell their home, but they had a big problem. The notary public refused to notarize the wife’s signature because she clearly did not understand the document she was being asked to sign and was deemed to be incapacitated. Because there was no power of attorney in place that could have authorized her husband to represent her, the transaction came to a halt.

This situation, as described in Lake Country News’ article “When one spouse becomes incapacitated,” is not an uncommon occurrence. The couple needed to petition the court for an order authorizing the transaction. When community property is concerned and one spouse is competent while the second is not, the competent spouse may ask the court for permission to conduct the transaction. Although this is a possible solution, it can be very costly and tedious.

The request in California requires the following:

First, the incapacitated spouse must have an examination by a physician and a capacity evaluation form must be filed with the court. This is the same form as the one used in a conservator proceeding.

Second, the court must appoint a “guardian ad litem” to represent the incapacitated spouse’s interests. The person might be an adult child or an attorney. That person must then file a written report with their recommendation to the court.

Next, the papers must show that the transaction involves the couple’s community property. The order may affect additional separate property interests in the same transaction. If there is no community property, it is permissible for the well spouse to change some of the well spouse’s private property into community property to meet the requirements for community property.

The transactions must also be for one of several allowed purposes, including the best interests of the spouses or their estates, or for the care or support of either spouse. In the example that starts this article, the purpose was an appropriate one, which was to authorize the sale of their home so they could move out of state to live with their children. Another example could be to transfer property so that an incapacitated spouse may become eligible for government benefits.

Finally, the notice of hearing and a copy of the petition must be served on all the incapacitated spouse’s children and grandchildren. Any of these individuals are permitted to object and could set the proceedings back months or even years.

How much easier would it be to simply meet with an estate planning attorney long before there are any health or mental capacity issues and have a power of attorney document created for each of the spouses? Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to have your estate plan, which includes the power of attorney document, and have all these important documents created before you need them.

Reference: Lake Country News (July 27, 2019) “When one spouse becomes incapacitated”

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”