Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Have You Really Talked to Your Children About Your Finances?

Bigstock-Large-Mixed-Race-Family-2589417_(2)[1]For most estate plans to go well, it is important that parents talk to their adult children about the family finances. While many parents claim that they do, the children say that they do not.

Estate plans often have many complicated pieces,  since they reflect the complicated nature of people's finances. Those who are not financial experts, often have problems dealing with the complexity of handling an estate, if they have not been told beforehand what they will be dealing with and how to handle it.

For this reason, estate planning attorneys normally advise their clients to have an in-depth conversation with their children about their finances. If the children are going to be called upon to act as a power of attorney in the event of incapacity or to administer any portion of the estate, then they need to know what to do before they need to do it.

Forbes reports that those conversations may not be happening nearly enough in "The Last Taboo: Your Parents Still Won't Talk About Their Money With You."

A total of 70% of parents report that they have had detailed conversations with their children. However, only 50% of their children report that those conversations have actually taken place.

What this suggests is that while parents might be giving what they think are detailed explanations about their finances, the children still have questions that should be answered.

It is important not to assume that your children know what they are supposed to do from a brief overview. Invite them to ask questions and answer any that they have.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 31, 2017) "The Last Taboo: Your Parents Still Won't Talk About Their Money With You."


Personal Items Cause Fights In Estates

Bigstock-Extended-Family-Outside-Modern-13915094[1]Most of the estate disputes that get reported, involve large fortunes that are being fought over. In reality, most family estate fights involve much smaller things such as personal items.

You may not realize it, but many of the personal items you have around the house have a special meaning to your adult children. Some items might remind them of childhood memories. Some items might remind them of you. Other items they just might like for one reason or another.

While you are alive, these items are unlikely to cause any problems. However, after you pass away, they could very well cause problems for your estate.

If you have more than one child that wants a particular piece of personal property, there needs to be a way for them to decide who gets it, as Business Vancouver points out in "Wills: Leave'em laughing."

There are several different things you can do to make sure that your children do not argue over your possessions. If you want a child to have something in particular, then you can give it to them before you pass away or you can make specific designations in your estate plan.

Another method is to direct that your children use a reverse draft method. One child picks an item. Then the next child goes and so on. When every child has picked something, then the order of choosing is reversed and they all pick again.

A list could also be presented to each child of all the important items and they can rank them all by preference. The estate executor can then use those rankings to guide the distribution of personal items.

The important thing is that you need to think about the potential problems in your estate plan and have a way for those problems to be resolved.

Reference: Business Vancouver (Jan. 31, 2017) "Wills: Leave'em laughing."


Signing an Inheritance Away. It Happens.

MP900202201[1]It is every parent's worst fear. A child will agree to give away their inheritance for far less than it is worth for quick money.

Recently, MarketWatch published an advice column with the following question as its title: "My drug-addicted friend signed away his $800,000 inheritance to his brother — now he’s clean, can he get it back?"

The title is an almost complete description of what happened. A reader wrote in with a story about his friend who inherited $800,000 from his father's will. The friend was addicted to drugs and agreed to sign his rights to the inheritance away to his own brother for only $10,000.

Now, that the friend is sober, the reader wonders whether there is any way to get the inheritance back.

The column writer suggests that the friend hire an attorney and sue the brother for fraud based on the premise that he knowingly took advantage of someone who was mentally incapacitated. That might work in some cases.

But not so fast.

There are some states and courts that are not quick to undo agreements that drug addicts voluntarily enter into, especially if it cannot be proven they were high at the time of making the agreement.

This is the type of scenario about which many parents have nightmares, when it comes to their addicted children. Leaving the child an inheritance outright can quickly be lost.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the problem altogether without disinheriting the drug-addicted child. A trust can be used to protect the inheritance with a trustee who is granted the discretion to only distribute money when the child is able to handle it.

Reference: MarketWatch (Jan. 24, 2017) "My drug-addicted friend signed away his $800,000 inheritance to his brother — now he’s clean, can he get it back?"


Things that Caregivers Need to Do

MP900178564[1]If you are going to be a caregiver for an elderly family member, there are some important things that you need to do before you get started.

Being a caregiver for an elderly person is not easy. It takes a lot of time and can come with emotional and financial costs. That is even more likely for people who become caregivers for their elderly family members.

There are a few things that people can do before becoming a caregiver to make things easier.

Recently, Forbes discussed some helpful pointers for caregivers in "4 Critical Things To Do Before Becoming A Caregiver," including:

  • Make sure you have all of the elderly person's legal, financial and medical documents. You need to know where the person has their bank accounts. You need to have powers of attorney. You need to know who the elderly person's doctors are.
  • Make sure your own finances are in good order. You might want to take some time off of work at the beginning of your caregiving, so make sure that you understand the FMLA.
  • Make a personal care agreement with the elderly person. This is a written statement about what the expectations are. While not a legal document, this will help give everyone peace of mind and make the transition easier.
  • Have your own support team in place. Caregiving is not easy. Make sure that you have people who can support you when you need it. You should enlist the aid of friends, family and organizations for the elderly.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 22, 2017) "4 Critical Things To Do Before Becoming A Caregiver 

The Final Estate Tax Battle

Mac-glasses[1]Political watchers are eager to see if President Trump and the Democrats will go to war over the estate tax. Some have declared it the final battle in the estate tax wars. Those wars have a long history.

President Donald Trump promised to end the estate tax in his campaign for office. While it is not yet clear whether he will carry through on that promise, many observers in Washington D.C. are wondering if it could lead to the permanent end to the estate tax.

With so much else Democrats object to, observers are speculating whether Democrats will finally capitulate and agree to end the estate tax or whether they will continue the fight. The battle over the tax has been raging for a long time.

The Hill discusses all of this in "Trump vs. the Democrats: Is this the end of the 100 year war over the Estate Tax?"

One of the most remarkable things about the estate tax battle, is that the arguments have essentially remained unchanged for over 100 years.

The Republican arguments against the tax derive from those first advanced by early economists, including Adam Smith. Democratic arguments in favor of the tax are virtually the same as those advanced by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. If there is to be another fight over the tax in this Presidency, the old arguments are likely to be used again.

Of course, this might not be the final battle in the war.

The estate tax briefly disappeared under President George W. Bush. If President Trump wins and gets rid of it, the tax could come back when Democrats next gain power.

Reference: The Hill (Jan. 12, 2017) "Trump vs. the Democrats: Is this the end of the 100 year war over the Estate Tax?"


Estate Planning Challenges for a Really Long Life

Bigstock-Elder-Couple-With-Bills-3557267[1]Increasingly wealthy people are paying for medical services that could potentially help them live for over a century. That creates estate planning challenges that did not exist for previous generations of the ultra-wealthy.

No one can guarantee that they will live a longer than normal life, no matter how much money they have to spend on their health care. However, medical advances and new personalized medical care plans, such as concierge care, make it so that those with enough means can make it far more likely than ever that they will live much longer than their peers.

This could mean that in the near future it will be common for the ultra-wealthy to live for 100 years and even decades longer, in some cases. This will have some benefits, but it also comes with some unique estate planning challenges.

Forbes recently discussed some of the challenges in "Estate Planning For The Ultra-Wealthy When Living To 120 Or Beyond."

The biggest issue is that it is common for people to retain control of their own assets until they pass away. That can become a problem the longer people live. Scientists still do not have a cure for dementia and the longer people live, the more likely they are to suffer from it.

A long life of carefully managing money could easily be undone. Younger family members might also start to grow impatient waiting to take control and cause problems.

The ultra-wealthy who plan to live long lives, might want to consider an estate plan that gives control to someone else before they pass away. At what age should that be done and under what circumstances, are matters these families should discuss.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 18, 2017) "Estate Planning For The Ultra-Wealthy When Living To 120 Or Beyond."


Trump’s Choice for Secretary Nominee Has a Dynasty Trust

Bigstock-Vintage-brass-telescope-on-ant-44347372[1]President Trump's choice for Treasury Secretary has created some controversy as ethics disclosures have revealed that he has placed assets into a dynasty trust.

 President Obama has repeatedly asked Congress to address dynasty trusts. These are trusts designed to keep wealth in one family for many generations. Properly designed and administered, these trusts can help to legally avoid paying estate taxes for generation after generation, while continuing to generate wealth.

Some lawmakers view this as taking advantage of tax loopholes,  while others believe that allowing dynastic wealth for generation after generation is bad in itself.

For his part, President Trump would make such trusts a thing of the past. He has said that he would eliminate the estate tax entirely, which makes dynasty trusts unnecessary.

His choice for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, however, has brought the issue to the forefront,  since it has been revealed that Mnuchin created a dynasty trust for his family.

This is reported by Financial Advisor in "Trump's Treasury Pick May Have Used Tax Loophole Obama Attacked."

It is actually true that dynasty trusts exist because of something of a loophole.

Congress never intended for them to be created. For centuries, the English common law inherited by the U.S. prohibited trusts that violated the rule against perpetuities. This rule is extremely complicated and limits the duration of trusts.

When Congress last worked out the basic structure of the federal estate tax, it assumed the rule would be in place. At the time, the rule was the law in every state.

Over the years, however, several estates have repealed the rule against perpetuities in an effort to entice trust business into their states.

That made dynasty trusts possible.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Jan. 12, 2017) "Trump's Treasury Pick May Have Used Tax Loophole Obama Attacked."



Changing Residence and Your Estate Plan

Bigstock-Extended-Family-Outside-Modern-13915094[1]Every year thousands of wealthy people temporarily move from their cold, northern homes to residences in warmer states. Many consider making their warmer homes their permanent residence, especially as they grow older.

Given the choice, many people would much rather live in the warm, sunny climates of states such as Florida and Arizona instead of the colder climates of northern states. However, for most people, that is not an option since they have good jobs they cannot leave in northern states.

Some of them, however, are able to maintain residences in warmer states where they can live during the winter. As they near retirement, many consider switching residences completely and making their southern home their permanent home.

This is reported by the Middletown Transcript in “MAKING CENTS: From snowbird to flamingo.”

What many people do not realize is that if they change their state of residence, then they may also need to change their estate plans.

An estate plan crafted by an expert estate planning attorney is created with your individual state of residence in mind and making sure that state laws are followed. The estate plans are designed to work for the individual states. That means they may need to be changed to reflect the laws of a new state of residence.

If you do move to Florida or Arizona, or any other state, make sure to see a local estate planning attorney so your estate plan can be changed to take advantage of your new state’s laws.

Reference: Middletown Transcript (Jan. 17, 2017) “MAKING CENTS: From snowbird to flamingo.”


Market Shifts and Trust Investments

Draft_lens6229982module49470302photo_1249598396business-man[1]Some experts believe that equities and bonds are about to undergo a dramatic shift in their relationship. That could have an important impact on how trustees invest trust assets.

For approximately 30 years, many types of investors have enjoyed a luxury that many of them did not know was unusual. The equity and bond markets had a negative correlation. That made maintaining a diversified portfolio relatively easy.

Prior to the last 30 years, the two markets had been positively related. Some experts believe the change was brought about because of the relatively low inflation rates in recent decades. They believe that inflation rates will rise in the near future and cause a return to the more historical positive correlation between equities and bonds.

This is reported by Financial Advisor in "Forget 30 Years Of Stock And Bond Divergence, Bernstein Says."

If this shift does occur, trustees will need to pay attention. Trustees are required to invest trust assets by following the prudent investor rule. For the last 30 years, that has meant following modern portfolio theory and diversifying assets between different classes of investment. However, a return to bonds and equities having a positive relationship will make diversification of investments more difficult.

Trustees' jobs will become much more difficult.

Of course, this shift has not happened yet and might never happen. Most market predictions never come to fruition. However, trustees should pay attention and make sure that they are following the best advice about investing trust assets.

Reference: Wealth Management (Jan. 10, 2017) "Forget 30 Years Of Stock And Bond Divergence, Bernstein Says."


Robotic Pets for Alzheimer’s Patients

Irish-hands[1]Therapy animals have been used effectively for all kinds of patients, including those with Alzheimer's disease. However, it is not always practical or safe to use real animals with people suffering from dementia. Some care centers are substituting robotic pets.

Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia can give patients a deep sense of loneliness. Patients often cannot remember where they are and who the people are around them. This can lead to feelings of being alone.

One way to combat this is with companionship. However, elder caregivers and elder law advocates all know how difficult it can be to get the necessary companionship on a consistent basis.

Therapy animals have sometimes been used. However, even with specially trained dogs and cats, there is still a safety risk for many patients and the animals themselves.

Of course, real animals have to be cared for and fed as well, which takes up caregiving time.

The New York Times in "Therapy Cats for Dementia Patients, Batteries Included" discusses a new trend to use robotic cats.

Robotics have gotten good enough and cheap enough that some commercially available robotic pets could have benefits for patients with dementia.

The article discusses their use in one nursing home where the residents really enjoy the robots. They give a sense of joy and empowerment, even when the patients realize that the robots are not real animals.

There has been no conclusive research proving any long term benefits of robotic pets for people with Alzheimer's. However, the short term benefits are easy to see for those who work with the patients.

Reference: New York Times (Dec. 15, 2016) "Therapy Cats for Dementia Patients, Batteries Included."