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”

Worried about a Spouse Needing Nursing Home Care?

Worried about a Spouse Needing Nursing Home Care?
couple bored in retirement

The six-figure cost of nursing home care is worrisome for those who are married, when a spouse has to go to a nursing home. In the example above, Tom has had some major health issues in the past year and Louise is no longer able to care for him at home.

In this case, the couple live in Pennsylvania, where nursing home care statewide is $126,420 a year ($342.58 per day). The state has a Medical Assistance program that is a joint state-federal program that will pay for nursing home care, if a person meets both the medical and financial criteria.

Tom has met one of the major Medical Assistance threshold requirements, because he is “nursing home facility clinically eligible,” which means that a doctor has certified that due to illness, injury or disability, Tom requires the level of care and services that can only be provided in a nursing home.

What will happen to their assets?

In 1988, Congress passed the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, which created a process of allocating income and resources between a spouse who needs to live in an institutional setting and the spouse who can continue to remain in a community setting.

Tom and Louise’s resources are divided into two buckets: one that is exempt and the second that is non-exempt.

The family home, care, and cost of a pre-paid funeral, if that has been done, are exempt or non-countable assets.

Everything else, whether they own it together or individually, is considered non-exempt. In Pennsylvania, Louise’s IRA is the exception. However, that is not the same in every state.

Louise is entitled to keep one half of what they own, with a maximum of $126,420, as of January 1, 2019. This is her “community spouse resource allowance.”

Anything else they own, is used to pay for Tom’s nursing home care or purchase a very select group of “exempt” assets, like a replacement car or the cost of a prepaid burial.

They would have needed to give away their resources, at least five years preceding an application for Medical Assistance. If they have given money away in an attempt to preserve some of their assets, that would have changed the timeline for Tom’s being eligible for care.

Louise needs income to live on, so that she is not impoverished. She is entitled to a monthly minimum maintenance needs allowance of $2,058 and a maximum needs allowance of $3,150.50. These numbers are federally adjusted and based on inflation.

The numbers that must be examined for Louise’s income are her Social Security benefits, Tom’s Social Security benefits, any pension either of the two may have and any other income sources. She can keep her income, as long as she does not go over a certain level.

Sounds scary? It is. This is why it is so important to do advance planning for nursing home care, and have an ongoing working relationship with an attorney with experience in estate planning and elder law. There are changes over time to address the changing circumstances that life and aging present.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (April 29, 2019) “Married and concerned about one of you going to a nursing home?”

Surviving Spouse Needs An Estate Plan

When one spouse dies after meticulously titling assets to pass through joint tenancy to the surviving spouse, estate planning attorneys flinch. There are occasions when everything works smoothly, but they are the exception. As this article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel warns “After husband’s death, wife needs to create revocable trust.” Actually, she needs more than a revocable trust: she needs an estate plan.

Most of the assets in the plan created by her husband, in this case, did pass to the wife outside of probate. However, there are a number of details that remain. She needs to obtain date-of-death values for any non-IRA securities the couple owned, and she should also have their home’s value determined, so that a new cost basis for the house will be established. She also needs an appointment with an estate planning attorney to create a will and an estate plan.

If the surviving spouse dies without a will, her children will inherit the estate in equal shares by intestate succession. However, if any of her children pass before she does, the estate could be distributed to her grandchildren. If they are of legal age, there is no control over how the assets will be managed.  Making matters worse, if a child or grandchild is disabled and receiving government benefits, an inheritance could make them ineligible for Social Security and Medicaid benefits, unless the inheritance is held within a Special Needs Trust.

Another reason for an estate plan: a will details exactly how assets are distributed, from the set of pearls that great aunt Sarah has kept in the family for decades to the family home. A durable power of attorney is also part of an estate plan, which lets a named family member or trusted friend make financial decisions on your behalf, if you become incapacitated. An estate plan also includes an advance health care directive, so a loved one can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not able.

These are the basics of an estate plan. They protect loved ones from having to go to court to obtain the power to make decisions on your behalf, as well as protect your family from outsiders making claims on your estate.

A revocable trust is one way to avoid probate. An estate planning attorney will be able to evaluate your own unique situation and determine what the best type of trust would be for your situation, or if you even need a trust.

You may be thinking of putting your home, most families’ biggest asset, into joint tenancy with your children. What if one or more of your children have a divorce, lawsuit or bankruptcy? This will jeopardize your control of your home. A revocable trust will allow your assets to remain in your control.

The last piece in this estate is the IRA. If you are the surviving spouse, you’ll want to roll over your spouse’s IRA into your own. Make sure to update the beneficiary designation. If you neglect this step and the IRA pays into your estate when you pass, then the IRA has to be cashed in within five years of your death. Your children will lose the opportunity to stretch IRA distributions over their lifetimes.

An estate planning attorney can help guide you through this entire process, working through all the details. If your goal is to avoid probate, they can make that happen, while protecting you and your loved ones at the same time.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (March 24, 2019) “After husband’s death, wife needs to create revocable trust”

Figuring Out A Parent’s Financial Life, When They Cannot

Imagine that your perfectly fine, aging-well parent has had a minor stroke and is no longer able to manage their financial or legal affairs. Your parent has been living independently, waiving off offers of help or even having someone come in to clean for years. It seemed as if it would go on that way forever. What happens, asks the Daily Times, when you are confronted with this scenario in the aptly-titled article “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”?

After the health crisis is over, it’s time to get busy. Open the door to the home and start looking. Where’s the will, where are the bank statements and where’s the information about Social Security benefits? When you start making calls or going online, you run into a bigger problem than figuring out where the papers are kept, no one will talk with you. You are not legally authorized, even though you are a direct descendant.

This happens all the time.

Statistically speaking, it is extremely likely that your parent will end up, at some point, in a nursing home or a rehabilitation center for an extended period of time. Most people have no idea what their parent’s financial situation is, where and how they keep their financial and legal records and what they would need to do in an emergency.

It’s not that difficult to fix, but you and your hopefully healthy parent or parents need to start by planning for the future. That means sitting down with an estate planning attorney and making sure to have some key documents, most importantly, a Power of Attorney.

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives you permission to act on another person’s behalf as their agent, if they are unable to do so. It must be properly prepared for your state’s laws.  It allows you to pay bills and make decisions on behalf of a loved one, while they are alive. Without it, you’ll need to go to court to be appointed as legal conservator of the estate. That takes time and is MUCH more expensive, than having a POA created and properly executed.

If you have downloaded a Power of Attorney and are hoping it works, be warned: chances are good it won’t. Many financial institutions insist that the only POA they will accept, are the ones that they issue.

Once you have a POA in place, assuming that your parent is able to sign it, then it’s time to get organized. You’ll need to go through all the important papers, setting up a system so you can see what bills need to be paid, how many bank accounts or investment accounts exist and review her financial status.

Next, it’s time to consolidate. If your parent was a child of the Depression, chances are they have money in many different places. This gave them a sense of security and gives you a headache. Consolidate four different checking accounts into one. The same should be done for any CDs, investment accounts and credit cards. Have her Social Security and any pension checks deposited into one account. But be careful before moving any investments as there could be significant tax consequences if they are moved improperly.

If you need help, and you might, don’t hesitate to ask for it. The stress of organizing decades of a loved one’s home, plus caring for them and managing the winding down of a home can be overwhelming. Your estate planning attorney will be able to connect you with a number of resources in your area.

Reference: Daily Times (April 9, 2019) “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”

How Can I Protect My Child’s Inheritance, If They Have a Substance Abuse Problem?

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Selecting the Right Trustee and Protector for a Substance Abuse Trust,” explains that selecting the trustee for a substance abuse trust should start with a good idea of the duties they will perform. Next, find a person or institutional trustee that’s most qualified to fulfill those obligations to ensure that the child’s inheritance is protected. Parents should then think about naming a trust protector, who serves in a supervisory role to ensure that the trust is being properly administered.

The basic duties of a trustee include a fiduciary duty to administer the trust in good faith and in accordance with its terms and purposes; loyalty to the beneficiaries, by acting solely in their interests; invest the trust property prudently by considering the purposes, terms, distributional requirements, and other circumstances of the trust; and to act impartially, when there are multiple beneficiaries.

There may also be special duties of the trustee. For a child with a substance use disorder, the trustee’s duties for distributions could be linked specifically to paying for the costs of rehab, job training, professional service fees and other items that are part of the treatment plan developed by the beneficiary’s treatment team. Tying distributions into the treatment plan would mean the trustee, and maybe someone familiar with treatment management, would have to work closely with the treatment team to carry out the plan.

If the trust has incentive clauses, the trustee will also have to determine if the beneficiary has attained the goal (like sobriety for a certain period of time) and if so, the benefit to which he or she’s entitled. These can be hard to administer, since it can be hard to verify if the beneficiary has actually met the goals.

If the beneficiary is eligible for government program benefits, like SSI or Medicaid or from private health insurance, another set of duties will be placed upon the trustee to make certain that distributions won’t be classified as “maintenance” or “support.” If so, it could result in the child being declared ineligible. Since distributions from the trust are meant only to supplement the benefits that SSI or Medicaid is providing (and not duplicate or supplant them), the trustee will have to closely watch the uses of the distributions, so they aren’t support and maintenance.

You must next look at potential candidates to see who’s best suited for the role of trustee. There are two categories of trustees: individual and institutional. Individual trustees can include family members. The advantage here is that they’ll know the beneficiary and can give more personalized service than an institutional trustee. However, appointing a family member or friend as trustee may ruin the relationship, if the trustee denies the beneficiary’s demands.

You can appoint a licensed private fiduciary, trust company, bank trust department, or a corporate trustee connected to a brokerage firm to serve as the trustee to avoid possible family conflicts. However, some institutional trustees may be more focused on their investment performance, than on tending to the mental and physical needs of their beneficiaries. In the case of a substance abuse trust, “hands-on” involvement with the beneficiary is vital.

One alternative may be to appoint an individual and an institutional company to serve as co-trustees. The individual could be personally involved with the beneficiary and their treatment plan, and the professional trustee could deal with and handle the investments. However, both trustees should make distribution decisions. The best type of professional trustee for a substance abuse trust, would be one that works primarily in administering special needs trusts. These are created for the benefit of children with disabilities. These trustees will be knowledgeable about SSI and Medicaid eligibility rules.

A trust protector, depending on applicable state law, acts as the settlor’s surrogate. This continues even after the settlor dies. This allows the trust to adapt to changing circumstances. The trust protector could also direct the trustee’s actions concerning how the trust assets would be invested and could approve or deny proposed disbursements from the trust. The trustee would be obligated to comply with such directions, unless they would be manifestly contrary to the trust’s terms or a breach of the protector’s duties.

As far as a substance abuse trust, a trust protector can provide supervision, if the trustee doesn’t possess experience in coordinating trust distributions with a substance abuse treatment plan, or with monitoring the beneficiary’s eligibility for government aid programs. Instead of the trustee appointing agents to assist in these matters, the protector would actively monitor the progress of the beneficiary’s recovery and, if necessary, direct the trustee to engage a treatment manager for the beneficiary or an advocate to secure SSI and Medicaid benefits.

Support from all parties will help the beneficiary continue on the road to recovery, which is the ultimate goal of the trust.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 8, 2019) “Selecting the Right Trustee and Protector for a Substance Abuse Trust”

 

What Do I Do First After the Death of My Spouse?

There is no doubt that the stress can be all-consuming when a spouse passes away. It’s not a good time to make financial decisions. You should also avoid making any major changes for at least a year if you’re able. Allow your emotions to settle, prior to doing anything that could drastically impact your taxes and finances.

U.S. News & World Report recently published an article, “Don’t Make These Mistakes When Your Spouse Passes Away,” that warns us to take care to avoid these mistakes after the death of a spouse:

Taxes. Your tax-filing status will change after a spouse passes away. That could move you into a higher tax bracket or cause you to lose tax breaks. You can’t file married filing jointly and no longer have two exemptions. Check with your tax preparer before December if you need to make any adjustments prior to the close of the tax year.

Social Security and Annuity Income. You may also lose your deceased partner’s Social Security income. Widows and widowers can claim a Social Security survivor’s payment that’s equal to the amount the higher earning spouse received. However, there will now be just one Social Security check coming in, not two. In some instances, pension or annuity payments might also cease. You may see significant changes in your income.

Unplanned Withdrawals from Tax-Deferred Accounts. Many people seek to make up lost income, by taking retirement account withdrawals. However, a mistake can trigger both taxes and penalties. Income tax is due on each traditional 401(k) or IRA withdrawal because when you withdraw tax-deferred money, there are tax consequences. When you make a withdrawal from a spouse’s IRA, taxes are due. If you’re not 59½ or older, you could also pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Surviving spouses should try to minimize taxes on retirement account withdrawals to help the money last as long as possible.

Paying Taxes on Retirement Account Withdrawals Too Early. A surviving spouse can transfer tax-deferred retirement account assets into his or her name. That frequently lets a person further delay taxation. If you are under 70½, you can defer taxes into the future.

Paying a 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty. If the surviving spouse isn’t yet 59½ and needs some of the money in a retirement account, you can transfer the money into an inherited spousal IRA. If you need money, the IRS will let you take distributions. You’ll have to pay taxes, but you avoid the 10% penalty.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Distributions from retirement accounts are required after age 70½—even in the year when the spouse passes away. If the decedent was in payout mode and past 70½, make certain that between the decedent and beneficiary, you still take the required minimum distribution. If you forget, there’s a possible penalty of up to 50% of what you should have taken.

Advice. It’s not easy or practical to delve into your finances, right after losing a loved one. Don’t make any big money moves without advice. Remember to also incorporate tax planning with your estate planning, and work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (February 15, 2019) “Don’t Make These Mistakes When Your Spouse Passes Away”