Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Pet Cremation

240_F_34387211_kDyD2ZEeXLQgsnoMgadw7NpLVC5PRje1You now have the option to have your pet cremated and keep the ashes in an urn at home.

A recent trend is for people to treat their pets just like any other member of their family. It is no longer just a dog or a cat. Your pet is a beloved member of your family, due the same consideration as any other member of your family.

While not everyone sees their pets in this way, more and more people do.

That has implications not just for how pets are treated in life, but also how they are treated in death.

For example, there is now a growing trend for funeral homes to offer cremation for pets as PA reports in "Pet Cremation Industry Gains Popularity."

For the relative small price of a few hundred dollars, people can have their pets cremated. The price normally includes an urn to hold the ashes, which people can take home with them.

Perhaps more important than what will be done with your pet when it passes away, is what will be done with your pet when you pass away.

Your pet cannot get a job to support itself. You might treat it like any other human family member, but it is not that human.

Therefore, if you want to make sure that your pet is taken care of, you need to make plans. There are several different ways that you can do so in an estate plan.

You can designate someone to take care of your pet and set money aside for that purpose. You can even create a pet trust with your pet as the beneficiary.

If you want to make sure your beloved pet is taken care of after you pass away, then talk to an estate planning attorney about how to do that.

Reference: PA (June 23, 2017) "Pet Cremation Industry Gains Popularity."


Going on a Last Ride

Motorcycle riders in Lubbock, Texas now have the opportunity to incorporate going on a final ride into their funeral services.

The basic design of hearses has not changed very much over the years. They are somber looking vehicles, usually black, that most closely resemble a limousine.

At least, that is what almost everyone would imagine, when they hear the word "hearse."

However, Derek Dunn of Lubbock, Texas had a different idea.

Dunn created a hearse that resembles a motorcycle and painted it red.

MP900442276[1]The hearse pulls a platform behind it that carries the casket, which is in the open air. Different graphics can be displayed on the platform for groups, such as firefighters and police.

Dunn even created the hearse to appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts who want to go on one last ride.

Everything Lubbock reported this story in "A Unique 'Last Ride'."

This is a continuation of the larger trend to personalize funerals and memorials. More and more people are choosing to have more personal touches in their funerals, instead of sticking with just the traditional ceremony.

If the trend continues, more stories like the motorcycle hearse can be expected.

Elderly people should be aware of this trend for two reasons. First, if they want to have a non-traditional personalized funeral service, then they should make pre-arranged plans. There are many options available.

Second, and just as important, elderly people who do not want a traditional service, need to let that be known, in case their families might decide to do it on their own.

Reference: Everything Lubbock (June 27, 2017) "A Unique 'Last Ride'."


Electronic Wills in Florida Vetoed

MP900442500[1]The Florida legislature recently passed a bill that would allow for electronic wills in the state. It has been vetoed by the governor.

Creating legal documents online is increasingly common. Many people today, for example, work under contracts that are created online and digitally signed.

Taxes can now be done online, that require nothing more than a digital signature. There are some people who would like for this trend of creating legal documents online to reach one of the legal documents that has the most formal requirements of them all: wills.

For wills to be valid, they must be executed and witnessed in a specific way.  In particular, in Maryland wills and DC wills must be signed in-person before a witness.  Wills that are not executed properly are not valid.  Consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure that you execute your estate planning documents appropriately.

The Florida legislature recently passed a bill that would allow wills to be created electronically.

The law would even allow the wills to be signed and witnessed electronically.

The governor, however, decided to veto the bill, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog reports in "Florida Governor Scott Vetoes Landmark Electronic Will Legislation."

The governor had several concerns about the proposal and the ability to ensure security.

However, one of the biggest concerns is that the bill would have allowed electronic wills that were not created in Florida to be probated in Florida. The governor was concerned that would allow people to use the law, when there was no actual connection with the state.

Although this particular proposal did not become law, it is likely that in the not too distant future, electronic wills will become legal in some states.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (June 28, 2017) "Florida Governor Scott Vetoes Landmark Electronic Will Legislation."

Suggested Key Words: Wills

Train Your Heirs

MP900442211[1]If you want your wealth to last and be available for future generations of your family, then you need to make sure that your heirs are ready to handle the responsibility of maintaining your wealth.

The ability to manage and preserve a large amount of wealth is not something most people are born with. If it were, then there would be few stories about big lottery winners ending up with less money after a few years, than they had before they won millions.

There are many stories like that.

There are also numerous stories about families that once had a lot of wealth that was lost over the generations.

These stories are actually so common that the few families who successfully preserve wealth for generations, are considered the exceptions to the rule.

Recently, the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed ways to make sure your family might be one of the exceptions in "Preparing Heirs for Successful Wealth Stewardship."

The key to such success actually seems relatively simple. In practice, however, it can be difficult.

Heirs need to be trained to handle the wealth.

They need to know how to make good investments and how to avoid bad ones. They also need to learn what good uses for the money are and what type of spending would be wasteful.

Perhaps, most importantly, heirs need to know who to turn to for advice.

A good estate plan is also vital to preserving family wealth.

The wealth cannot be maintained without the proper legal instruments, but estate planning is not enough by itself.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (June 29, 2017) "Preparing Heirs for Successful Wealth Stewardship."



Life Insurance Is Simple and Can Benefit Estate Plan

Estate and capital gains taxes can be avoided.

Wall Street has an enhanced life insurance method that benefits wealthy people and is becoming increasingly popular, according to Barron's in "New-ish Tax Planning Instrument Gathering Billions."

Bigstock-Vintage-brass-telescope-on-ant-44347372[1]Life insurance is a popular estate planning tool used as a relatively simple way to even out inheritances between heirs or to provide needed cash for family members, after the policy holder passes away.

A policy is purchased, premiums paid and upon the death of the policy holder, cash is distributed to the beneficiary.

Since life insurance is a death benefit, the beneficiary does not have to pay income taxes on it when it is paid out as a lump sum.

Wall Street has an insurance dedicated fund as a complicated investment tool that gets treated for tax purposes in the same way as life insurance.

It allows people to invest money that is then managed by hedge funds, without paying any capital gains tax on the investment. When the investor passes away, the accumulated funds in the account are distributed to beneficiaries and have the same tax benefits as life insurance.

Insurance dedicated funds are not new, but they have recently started becoming more popular.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on whether an insurance dedicated fund will fit your unique circumstances.

Reference: Barron's (June 28, 2017) "New-ish Tax Planning Instrument Gathering Billions."


Do You Need a Trust?

Bigstock-Large-Mixed-Race-Family-2589417_(2)[1]One of the biggest questions in estate planning today, is whether a trust is the best option for your family.

If you were to conduct a representative poll of middle class Americans about the best way to plan for your estate, it is almost certain that the majority of respondents would suggest getting a living trust.

It is the first piece of advice you will find almost anywhere you look for estate planning information. The reason for that is complex.

One reason is that many internet companies who sell trust creation documents have been very active in pushing the benefits of trusts to get more customers. Trusts are also often the best estate planning option for people.

Nevertheless, the key is to determine what the best estate planning option is for you personally, not for society generally, as points out in "Is a Living Trust Right for You and Your Family?."

Trusts do have many benefits over wills.

Trusts do not have to go through probate and, therefore, are not subject to the commonly cited costs and delays associated with probate.

Trust provisions do not have to be made public, as most wills do. Trusts are also a great way to control what your heirs might do with their inheritances, but “testamentary trusts” under wills do so as well.

If you really want to know whether you should get a trust, the best thing to do is to ask an estate planning attorney. Tell the attorney what your needs are and let the attorney suggest the best ways to meet those needs.

Reference: (June 27, 2017) "Is a Living Trust Right for You and Your Family?."


Medicaid Proposals

  Bigstock-Elder-Couple-With-Bills-3557267[1]Even though a vote over the Senate’s bill to repeal Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) has been delayed, it is important to know whether or not it affects elders who rely on Medicaid for nursing home care.

At least for the moment, the legislation to cap Medicaid will not proceed. Nor will the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  There were several proposals that could have had an impact.

In March, the House legislation included limits to home equity as a countable resource and repeal of three-month retroactive coverage.  By lowering the limits on home equity, recipients could have been forced to chose between home ownership and Medicaid  assistance. Ultimately, the first was removed from the Senate bill and the second was modified to not apply to persons with disabilities and those over 65.

NAELA is also concerned about the misuse of 1115 waivers to limit Medicaid eligibility. Maine has already proposed an 1115 waiver to put limits on annuities and end retroactive coverage. An elder law attorney can help you learn if you or a loved one qualifies for Medicaid and how to do Medicaid planning.

Medicaid Facts

MP900178564[1]Repeal of the Affordable Care Act has been one the biggest news items in recent weeks. Changes to Medicaid in Republican proposals have received a lot of attention, but many people do not know exactly what Medicaid does.

You probably know that Medicaid is the federal government program that provides health care coverage to poor Americans. However, in the debate about the repeal of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) and possible reductions to Medicaid in various appeal proposals, what often gets lost is exactly what that federal government program for the poor does.

Facts about the program get lost in the media noise.

It is important to know the facts, because only then can you really decide if you are for or against any changes.

NPR recently published a list of some lesser known facts about Medicaid in "From Birth To Death, Medicaid Affects The Lives of Millions," including:

  • It is very expensive. Medicaid currently takes up approximately 10% of the federal budget. State governments contribute even more on top of that to the costs of the program.
  • Half of all births in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid. The program has been expanded multiple times to include more and more pregnant women.
  • Some 62% of nursing home residents have their care through Medicaid.
  • Disabled people and the people who take care of them are often eligible to receive their care through Medicaid.
  • Medicaid is a major source of funding for the fight against opioid addiction.

Reference: NPR (June 27, 2017) "From Birth To Death, Medicaid Affects The Lives of Millions."


Exhuming Dali’s Body

Website-photo-state-incentive-page[1]A Spanish court has issued an order to exhume the body of legendary artist Salvador Dali, almost a quarter of a century after he passed away.

Salvador Dali was well known both for his eccentric art and his eccentric lifestyle. He was not known to have any children, but one Spanish woman claims that she is likely Dali's child.

The only problem is that she cannot prove her claims, since Dali passed away in 1989 at the age of 85.

The woman makes her living as a professional tarot card reader, so perhaps she could prove her paternity by reading the cards. However, she refuses to do such a self-reading. Instead, she has asked the Spanish courts to intervene.

A judge found enough basis for her claims, that Dali's body has been ordered to be exhumed from its current resting place underneath a theater in Dali's hometown so DNA testing can be performed, as the Washington Post reports in "Judge in Spain orders Salvador Dali's body exhumed for paternity test."

It is not clear what the woman hopes to gain from the testing. Dali's estate has long been closed and all of his valuable artwork donated to the Spanish government.

Even though the artwork is valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, it is unlikely the woman could lay claim to any of that money. For her part, she seems uncertain of what she wants, if Dali does turn out to be her father.

She has only stated that she wants "what corresponds to her."

It is not unheard of to reopen an estate or exhume a body to prove that the deceased had a previously unknown child. In this case, however, it probably is not going to do any good for the woman, beyond learning whether Dali really was her father.

Reference: Washington Post (June 26, 2017) "Judge in Spain orders Salvador Dali's body exhumed for paternity test."


Fiduciary Rule Confusion

MP900289434[2]The new fiduciary rule for financial advisers has caused a lot of confusion about what is and is not allowed with retirement accounts.

On June 9, a controversial new Department of Labor rule went into effect. The rule seems simple enough. Financial advisors who give investment advice to consumers about their retirement accounts, must act as fiduciaries of those consumers.

At least for attorneys, that is a very simple idea to understand.

Nevertheless, for consumers and their advisors the new rule has caused a lot of confusion, as the Washington Post details in “A new conflict-of-interest rule for retirement savers is causing a lot of confusion.”

The easiest way to understand what the new rule means, is that advisors have to act in the best interests of the people they are advising. Investment advice must be based on the best thing for the saver, not the advisor.

Therefore, if an advisor would earn a higher fee from suggesting one investment rather than another, he, or she cannot advise the saver on that basis. If the investment that pays the least to the advisor is better for the consumer, then that is the investment that must be recommended.

Many advisors are taking advantage of the new rule to make changes to how they manage retirement accounts.

The confusion surrounding the rule has given them the opportunity to make changes customers may not like and place the blame for them on the new rule.

If you are not sure if a change your advisor is making is really required by the new rule or if you should look for a different advisor, ask an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Washington Post (June 19, 2017) “A new conflict-of-interest rule for retirement savers is causing a lot of confusion.”