Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Estate Sale Gone Awry

person is handcuffsEstate sales are increasingly popular ways to get rid of unwanted items of personal property from an estate. One Colorado woman recently learned just how eager people can be to get a good deal.

Mary Andrews, a resident of Longmont CO, recently had an extremely bad day. She had a garage sale but did not manage to sell everything she had on offer.  However, that is not unusual.

Before Andrews cleaned up all the leftover items from her lawn, she left her house without locking her door. When she came home later, she found a lot of people inside her home taking everything that was not nailed down.

Why? An estate sale was supposed to be held two doors down from Andrews. People mistakenly believed that hers was the house for the estate sale. Furthermore, these people mistakenly believed that everything left over, which included the items in her house, were all left over and free for anyone who wanted them.

The police filed a report on the incident.  However, they have closed the case due to the lack of suspects. Fox News reported on this incident in “Colorado house ransacked after estate sale mix-up.”

The good news here is that people who are having estate sales can expect very enthusiastic buyers, even if they are not giving the items away for free. Estate sales have proven to be a great way for heirs to dispose of property they do not want. Buyers are so enthusiastic that many elderly people are having estate sales, while they are still alive as a way to downsize before moving to a smaller, more manageable home.

Reference: Fox News (March 28, 2018) “Colorado house ransacked after estate sale mix-up.”


The Process of Getting a Will

Extended Family SmilingIf you do not have a will, you should know that the process of creating one is not difficult in most cases.

People who do not have estate plans, often think that the process of getting one can be more difficult than it normally is. It is not difficult to get that false impression, if you start doing some digging online.

You will be confronted with unfamiliar terminology and 10 to 15 step plans that can make estate planning seem very time-consuming. You can also find some online form companies that tell you that purchasing their products make creating an estate plan easy. However, once you start reading their documentation, it might all look difficult again because you do not know the finer legal details of estate planning.

The truth? Estate planning does not have to be that difficult to accomplish, as The New York Times discusses in “What It Was Like To Finally Write My Will.”

The author of the piece discovered that creating his will was not very difficult at all. The key thing that he did was to get a recommendation for an attorney from a friend. He then went to that attorney and told the attorney what he wanted to do.

The attorney discussed the options and the author was able to work with the attorney to determine what the best plan would be for his unique circumstances. The attorney then wrote the plan down formally and the author just needed to go back to the attorney’s office a few weeks later, to formally sign the will and everything was done.

Most people will find that estate planning is just that simple when they also choose an appropriate estate planning attorney.

Reference: New York Times (April 3, 2018) “What It Was Like To Finally Write My Will.”


Handling Estranged Children

MP900448491Sometimes parents and children become estranged and no longer stay in contact. How these children should be handled in the parents' estate plans, depends on the situation and state laws.

For whatever reason, parents and their children do not always get along. They no longer talk to each other and may not even know anything about one another. In short, they may become estranged.

When parents have become estranged from their children, they need to know how to handle those children in their estate plans. One woman recently wrote to the Napa Valley Register to ask about her brother's daughter in "Is daughter really disinherited?"

The woman's brother had a child 30 years earlier. The brother had cut off all contact with the child's mother, when she was under the age of one. The child was later adopted by her stepfather. In his trust, the brother did not mention the daughter by name.  However, he used a general disclaimer that he did not want any unnamed relatives to receive anything.

The letter writer wanted to know if this daughter was really disinherited or if she could make a claim against the brother's estate.

In this case, the answer was an easy one. When the daughter was adopted by someone else, any legal relation between the biological father and the daughter terminated. The daughter cannot claim to be a relative for estate law purposes. In cases where a child has not been adopted by someone else, the answer depends on state law. Some states assume that any child not specifically mentioned and disinherited in an estate plan, were left out as the result of a mistake.

Contact a estate planning attorney, if you have questions about estranged children and estate law in your state.

Reference: Napa Valley Register (March 15, 2018) "Is daughter really disinherited?"


A Faster Way to Stop Elder Abuse

MP900400332One of the many challenges in fighting elder abuse, is that even when it is discovered, it can be difficult to stop it quickly.

Elder abuse can occur in several different ways.  However, one of the most pernicious ways is when a person entrusted to help an elderly person, uses that trust to gain access to financial account information. The “trusted” person then commits abuse by managing an elderly person's accounts for his or her own benefit.

When this financial abuse of the elderly is discovered or suspected, it is not always easy to put a quick end to it through the legal system.  Therefore, the abuse continues for longer than it should.

To fix this problem, some New Hampshire legislators think they have come up with a solution as Seacoast Online reports in "House bill would help elder victims of financial abuse."

The idea is to create a fast track for disabled people and the elderly to get legal relief, similar to how victims of domestic violence can get protective orders. Some elderly victims do currently qualify for domestic violence protective orders but not all.

The process varies from state to state.  However, all states have some sort of process, whereby a domestic violence victim can get a quick protective order from a judge for immediate relief. Giving the same level of protection to victims of elder abuse, would speed up the process greatly.

Talk to an elder law attorney, if you have questions about what to do in your state to help victims of elder abuse.

Reference: Seacoast Online (March 17, 2018) "House bill would help elder victims of financial abuse."


Planning After You Retire

Happy-old-coupleAfter you retire, you should continue to make plans so that you will be ready in case anything happens.

Everyone knows that it takes a lot of planning to retire properly. You must make sure that all of your finances are in order. You also should make sure that you have completed everything you need to receive Social Security benefits, when you want to start them and to enroll for Medicare.

It might be tempting to stop planning after retirement.  However, there is still some planning left to do, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog explained in "Post-Retirement Planning: A Checklist for Seniors."

Retirees need to plan for emergencies and the possibility of no longer being able to handle their own affairs. They need a general durable power of attorney, a health care power of attorney and a living will.

Fortunately, those documents are easy to get from elder law attorneys. However, just getting those documents is not quite enough.

If something happens to a retired person, the people designated to help immediately need to be able to step into their roles. That means all the information necessary for them needs to be gathered into one place.  This information includes a list of financial, investment and digital accounts. It also means that the legal documents need to be stored in the same place. Finally, a trusted friend or family member should be told where to find everything, if needed.

Talk to an elder law attorney, if you have questions about what you need to do to plan after you retire.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (March 20, 2018) "Post-Retirement Planning: A Checklist for Seniors."


Make the Most of Tax Season

Bigstock-Elder-Couple-With-Bills-3557267Don’t think of tax time as the worst time of year but as an opportunity to get a good estate plan.

There are two types of people who like tax season. One is accountants and the others are tax attorneys. For everyone else, it is the worst time of the year. Even accountants and tax attorneys are probably relieved when tax season is finally over, because no one likes doing their taxes.

Since you have to get all of your financial information for the year sorted out and digest it in the way the IRS requires, it, you will not have to do everything over again to create an estate plan, as Forbes points out in "Make A Better Plan This Tax Season."

When doing your taxes, you are looking at many of the same accounts you would consider when creating your estate plan. That takes care of one step in the process. After that, you just need to gather information about all of your other assets that were not part of your taxes for the year.

For most people, the rest of the estate planning process is relatively simple. You just need to determine who you want to have your assets after you pass away.

To complete your estate plan, you should hire an experienced estate planning attorney. When the attorney has your financial information and knows who you want to receive what is in your plan, an estate planning attorney can help you determine the best way to write a plan to accomplish your specific objectives.

Reference: Forbes (March 19, 2018) "Make A Better Plan This Tax Season."


Protecting Assets from Medicaid

MP900309139If Medicaid ends up needing to pay for your nursing home care, the government will seek to take any assets that you have to pay for its costs. You might be able to create a trust to get around that problem.

One of the realities of aging in America, is that people who need to stay in long-term nursing home care cannot pay for their stays without losing all of their assets. There is nothing left for their children to inherit. They spend everything they have left, and only then will the government pay for their care through Medicaid.

If the elderly person has a home, the government will even seek to claim that and sell it after no one else is living there. That creates an awful feeling for many elderly parents, because they have nothing to leave their families.

There are some ways around this problem, including using a certain type of trust as the Times Herald-Record discussed in “Benefits of Medicaid Asset Protection Trust.”

A Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is a trust that set up specifically to protect assets from Medicaid, while still qualifying an elderly person for Medicaid assistance with long-term care. These are irrevocable trusts and any assets put into them at least five full years before applying for Medicaid are protected. The trusts are not perfect, since the trust settlors cannot use any of the principal in the trusts.  However, income can be used.

If you are interested in a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, talk to an elder law attorney about one and  other options you might have.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (March 8, 2018) “Benefits of Medicaid Asset Protection Trust.”


Who Really Needs an Estate Plan?

children in a circle holding handsIf you were to survey people about who most needs an estate plan, the most popular answer would likely be incorrect. People think that the wealthy need estate plans the most.  However, that is not true. Parents with minor children need them more.   Planning for young families is critical to protect loved ones.

One of the fascinating things about estate planning is how it is perceived by average Americans. When you talk to people about it, they often think of estate plans as a way for rich people to determine who gets their property when they pass away. That is a big part of it but it is not the only reason for estate planning. In fact, the wealthy benefit from planning more than other people, only if you think that money is the most important thing people have to protect and preserve.

Most people think protecting their children is more important than money. That is why parents with minor children have more reasons to plan their estates than wealthy single people, as Volume One points out in “When There’s a Will.”

When parents of minor children plan their estates, they accomplish two very important tasks. First, they figure out how their children’s expenses will be met. Parents who thoughtfully prepare their estate plans can decide who will handle their assets for the benefit of their children and how that will be done. Even more importantly, they can decide who will take care of their children, should they be orphaned.

An estate plan is the only means by which parents have a say regarding who should be appointed as the guardian of their minor children, if anything happens to the parents.

If you have minor children, talk to an estate planning attorney, so you can make sure they are taken care of if the worst happens.

Reference: Volume One (March 7, 2018 ) “When There’s a Will.”


Farm Planning

MP900316845Estate planning for farmers is different than it is for other people, since the focus must be on who will inherit the farm.

When farmers get older, they start worrying about what will happen to the farm, after they pass away. Many would like to keep the farm in the family.

Sometimes farmers only have one child and that child would like to take over the farm. However, most of the time, farmers have multiple children. One, all or none of the children may have any interest in the farm. That makes planning seem difficult, but in reality, there are only three steps to consider, as discusses in "3 Steps To Succession Planning."

The steps include:

  • Communicate with family members about what you want to happen to your farm after you pass away and figure out what your family expects to happen. This is especially important when children are not interested in farming, so their inheritance expectations can be known and taken into account.
  • Try to determine what tools are available to meet your goals. If you can modify a lease agreement to help meet your goals, then that may be an available tool.
  • The last thing to do is to determine your legal options. This is where a good estate planning attorney comes into play. The attorney will listen to your goals and figure how to meet them. What that will look like, will vary because every family farm is different.

Reference: (March 8, 2018) "3 Steps To Succession Planning."


Advice for Widows and Widowers

MP900442402It is not easy losing a spouse.  However, widows and widowers do not have to let dealing with financial issues overwhelm them.

When people anticipate that their spouse will pass away, they often have a very difficult time handling everything afterwards. The grief that comes with the loss can make other things seem overwhelming, even for those people who have thought ahead and made careful plans. Things are also much worse when a spouse passes away unexpectedly.

If the deceased spouse was the one who handled most of the financial issues for the couple, things can get even more difficult. However, widows and widowers should not let financial issues bother them too much, as the Green Bay Press Gazette explains in “Financial planning tips for navigating loss of a loved one.”

The truth is that most financial decisions are not nearly as urgent or important as they are often made out to be. Widows and widowers do not have to make any financial decisions, until they are forced to do so. They should not make those decisions before. They should put off as much as they can, until they have had a chance to properly mourn the loss of a spouse.

Financial decisions do not have to be made alone either. If an attorney is helping with the estate administration, the attorney can make sure that all necessary estate financial matters are taken care of and suggest a professional to help with other things.

Things do go much better for widows and widowers, when the deceased spouse has made proper estate planning arrangements. Having an estate plan will greatly help your spouse, if something happens to you. Learn about the fundamentals of estate planning for Profit Law Firm.

Reference: Green Bay Press Gazette (March 9, 2018) “Financial planning tips for navigating loss of a loved one.”