Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Digital Asset Availability Limitations

MP900442500Gaining access to the digital accounts of deceased loved ones is slowly becoming easier. That means that people need to think about what type of access they want to grant as part of their estate planning.

Even just a few years ago, it was almost impossible to gain access to the digital accounts of the deceased. Even when ordered to allow access by judges, tech companies would point to their terms of service and deny that access. This created many problems for families and estate administrators who needed access to those accounts for a variety of reasons.  In Maryland, the legislature passed a law which became effective on October 1, 2016.  The law allows Maryland residents to name a fiduciary, during incapacity and upon death, to access the resident's online accounts. DC has not yet enacted such legislation.  For details on how to manage your digital assets, see an estate attorney.

In response to this problem, state legislators have slowly been passing new laws to gain access to digital accounts.  As a result, some tech companies are beginning to change their policies to account for this. However, when it comes to your estate planning, do you want someone to have access to your digital accounts after you pass away? If yes, for how long should they have that access?

This subject was recently considered by the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog in "Digital Assets Estate Planning — Alternatives to Perpetual Access."

The problem? The longer a digital account remains open without someone monitoring it, the more likely it is to be hacked by someone who can use the information in it for criminal, fraudulent or other nefarious purposes. Cases of this happening are becoming much more frequent. It sometimes means that estate administrators must deal with all of the problems associated with identity theft in addition to their more traditional duties.

Given these potential abuses, you might want to direct in your estate planning that your accounts be closed completely, after the period of time necessary to wrap up your affairs.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (April 6, 2018) "Digital Assets Estate Planning — Alternatives to Perpetual Access."


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."


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.”


Real Estate Should Be Put in a Trust

MP900442456In most cases, real estate has to go through the probate process after the owner passes away. That can be avoided. There is a good way and a bad way to do so.

Many Americans could avoid having their estates go through probate, if they did not own their homes. For many people, their home is their most valuable asset. Without the home, their estate would be small enough to avoid probate.

In most places, all real estate must go through probate after the owners pass away.  Otherwise, the deed will not be properly changed and recorded. Some people seek to avoid this problem by adding someone else's name to their deed before they pass away. This is usually a child or maybe a grandchild, but it is almost always a bad idea.

The Daily Republic discussed this matter in "All Things Real Estate: Living trust best way to pass house to children."

Among other problems, adding someone's name to your real estate deed makes it available to that person’s creditors. That sometimes does not become a problem.  However, when it does, it is normally a big one.

A much better way to avoid having real estate go through probate, is to create a revocable living trust. The real estate can be transferred to the trust and will not have to go through probate, after the owner passes away.

If you would like to create a trust for your home, contact an estate planning attorney about it and other probate avoidance ideas.

Reference: Daily Republic (March 3, 2018) "All Things Real Estate: Living trust best way to pass house to children."


Medicaid Planning

MP900442211[1]Americans who need long-term care assistance and cannot pay for it, can get help from Medicaid, if they plan ahead.

It seems almost cruel in a way that nursing homes are as expensive as they are. People who have saved well for their retirements and intended to leave something to their heirs in an estate plan, often face steep nursing home bills. If a stay in a nursing home is long enough, then all their savings can be wiped out and there will be nothing left for the heirs.

Many older Americans look around for other ways to pay for long-term care in a nursing home, if they ever need it. Some will be able to purchase insurance for it, but it is expensive and difficult to get. Other people might have to rely on Medicaid for their care as CNBC discusses in “Here’s a surprise source you can tap for long-term care services.”

The big catch with Medicaid is that it is only available for poor people. To be eligible for Medicaid to pay for nursing home care, the patient needs to have fewer than $2,000 in assets. To get around this problem, patients cannot just give all of their assets away to family members when they need to go into a facility. Any such transfers will be deemed fraudulently made and will disqualify them from receiving help.

There are ways around this problem for people who plan ahead. An elder law attorney can help you develop a plan for your assets that will not make you ineligible for Medicaid. This planning must be done years in advance, so do not delay getting an appointment for long-term planning for Medicaid eligibility.  Medicaid crisis planning is also available.

Reference: CNBC (Feb. 27, 2018) “Here’s a surprise source you can tap for long-term care services.”


Disability Planning

MP900442437[1]The number of Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease is expected to double in upcoming decades. It is important to make plans for what should happen, if you are one of the victims.

Alzheimer's is a scary disease to contemplate. Those who suffer from it slowly lose their cognitive abilities. They no longer recognize their loved ones and are increasingly unable to take care of even their most basic affairs.

Unfortunately, experts do not think a cure for this disease is likely in the near future.  They expect that the number of people who suffer from it in American will double by the year 2060.

That is a scary proposition for many and it is something everyone should make plans for as the Times Herald-Record discusses in "Disability planning is vital in case of cognitive impairment."

Fortunately, planning for Alzheimer's disease is not very difficult.

An estate planning attorney or elder law attorney can assist you in getting your legal paperwork in order. You will need a health care power of attorney, so someone of your choosing can make your medical decisions for you. You will need a general durable power of attorney, so someone of your choosing can handle your day to day financial affairs. You will also need a living will so that doctors will know what to do and not to do, when you are terminally ill with no chance of recovery.

There is no reason to delay getting these documents. They are easy to get. Everyone should have them, just in case something happens.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Jan. 18, 2018) "Disability planning is vital in case of cognitive impairment."


Questions About Powers of Attorney

MP900442387[1]When you get a general durable power of attorney, it is a good idea to ask questions about how it will work, given your unique life circumstances.

In most states, getting a general durable power of attorney is fairly easy.

Some legislatures have included form documents in the statute books that are templates for powers of attorneys. Online services are more than willing to offer cheap form documents that can also be filled out to create general durable powers of attorney.

The ease with which these documents can be obtained masks an issue with them, as MD Magazine discusses in "Five Questions to Ask About Your Financial POA."

The problem is that form documents contain boilerplate language that might not work for everyone's unique situation. If you take care of an elderly parent, you will want to make sure that the general durable power of attorney authorizes the agent (you) to continue paying for ongoing care and to make investment decisions.

These problems can be overcome by hiring an estate planning attorney to craft your general durable power of attorney.

The attorney can assist your elderly parent to create a document that does what he or she needs done and that is not just boilerplate language.  For an estate planning attorney located in Bethesda, Maryland contact Profit Law Firm.

Reference: MD Magazine (Dec. 27, 2017) "Five Questions to Ask About Your Financial POA."


Ashes Stolen in Transit

Bigstock-Family-Portrait-At-Christmas-4881212[1]Postal worker leaves package on doorstep during Christmas season and the package is stolen.

A thief in Arizona stole a package that contained the cremated remains of an Arizona woman's father rather than a Christmas present, according to Fox News in "Ashes of woman's father stolen from front porch of Arizona home, reward offered." The package was left there by a postal worker, even though a signature was required.

The postal service is investigating the incident and has offered a $10,000 reward for information. The woman would just like the ashes back, so she can take them to her brother in California.

If this unusual story has any sort of lesson, it might be that it is not a good idea to ship a loved one's ashes during the holiday season.

Reference: Fox News (Dec. 18, 2017) "Ashes of woman's father stolen from front porch of Arizona home, reward offered."


Getting the Most out of Social Security

Piggy Bank


Social Security benefits are of critical importance to most retired Americans. The benefits often account for 50% of the income retired people have, if not more.

It means that getting the most out of those benefits is extremely important.

Everyone knows that the amount of benefits they will receive depends on when they start taking the benefits. Many people choose to figure out for themselves how to maximize their benefits.

Many do so to their own detriment, according to CNBC in “Bungling this retirement decision could cost you $300,000.”

It has been estimated that every year, Americans receive $10 billion less in Social Security benefits than if they maximized their benefits. Some people leave as much as $300,000 in lifetime benefits on the table, without even knowing it.

This is the result of people not choosing to retire at the right time and also not thinking about things like spousal benefits that might be a good option for them.

It is not a good idea to make Social Security decisions on your own or to rely on government employees to tell you how to get your maximum benefit.

You need to talk to experts when making these decisions.

An elder law attorney in your area can help you decide how to get the most out of Social Security. Visit with one before you make any decisions that you cannot change later.

Reference: CNBC (Nov. 14, 2017) “Bungling this retirement decision could cost you $300,000.”