Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Will SAFE Act Really Make Seniors Safe?

Elderly woman looking serious

“In an attempt to take a step toward countering some of the negative impact of elder financial abuse, the government recently passed the Senior Safe Act in May 2018, as part of a bipartisan banking reform set of laws. “

Elder abuse costs millions of Americans an estimated $2.9 billion annually. The expectation is that these numbers are only going to increase, as the scams targeting the elderly become more and more sophisticated. This is according to Forbes in ““After SAFE Act Passage, The Battle Against Elder Financial Abuse Remains Far From Over.”

The aim of the Senior Safe Act is to encourage financial institutions of all kinds to play a larger role in fighting against elder financial abuse. The law, which was modeled after the Senior$afe program created in Maine, requires financial institutions to train employees on detecting activities that may indicate elder abuse is occurring. If the employees are trained, the Senior Safe Act also provides a reporting process and liability protection for those who report the possible abuse.  It is thought that the liability protection would make those individuals reporting the possible abuse more proactive.  However, there are still some problems with this.

Some advisors report being reluctant to report any client who seems to be suffering from mental deficiencies or elder abuse. The problem, advisors say, is that they are not trained and won’t feel confident in making a judgement about competency. Some court cases have put the onus on the advisor, when selling certain products or strategies but advisors lack both the training and the ability to make a medical diagnosis of senior clients. Without the ability to identify competency, it is very likely that any reporting will only take place well after the elder financial abuse has taken place.

Another issue is that family members or friends are typically the ones who commit elder financial abuse. The victim usually does not want to press charges, fearing that the person will become angry with them and withdraw their emotional support. Being dependent upon the same person who may have perpetrated financial abuse, puts the elderly person in a no-win situation.

Elder abuse prevention, financial and otherwise, should start years in advance, at the first signs of declining physical and mental health. It should begin with a plan for managing financial assets and having the proper legal documents in place, including a will, power of attorney, general durable power of attorney, healthcare directive and other estate planning documents.

By being proactive while the individual is still relatively well and healthy, it may be possible to create protections that will be crucial later in life. Speak with your estate planning attorney now, to make sure that your estate plan is in place, so you and your family are protected.

Reference: Forbes (July 23, 2018) “After SAFE Act Passage, The Battle Against Elder Financial Abuse Remains Far From Over”

 

Estate Planning with Blended Families Requires a Balance

Generational family smiling

“If you say “I do” a second time and have children, your partnership acquires new stakeholders—not necessarily willing ones. Adult children have expectations about how much they’ll inherit and how soon. A new spouse scrambles that calculus.

When you marry, you’re entering a partnership that is emotional and financial. When you marry again and when there are children from prior marriages, you are all entering a brave new world. The number one reason that stepparents and stepchildren fight is over money, according to the article “Don’t Split Heirs With Your Estate” from AARP.

If you and your spouse are each financially independent and leave your assets to your heirs, you’ll be less likely to run into the big money issues.  However, if one spouse depends on the other for support, assets will be needed for the other spouse’s lifetime. When there’s a big age difference, the children of the older spouse may end up waiting 10 to 15 years for their inheritance.

The couple’s first responsibility should be to their spouses. You can do this through your will, or a prenuptial or a postnuptial agreement. The goal is to make sure that the other spouse has enough money to live on. A surviving spouse does have the right to make a claim to a certain amount of the late spouse’s assets, in the absence of a will or a proper prenup. However, by taking care of this in the will, you can spare each other and your blended family from the time and delay that a claim will take. The award may be large or small, depending upon the laws in your state.

One way to head off some of the anger that may follow a first spouse’s death in a second or subsequent marriage, is to distribute at least a little bit of cash to all of the adult children in equal amounts. It’s not about the amount, but it is a signal that you are aware of them and their needs.

In blended families with good relationships, it would be ideal for children and stepchildren to be treated equally. If there’s a rational reason not to, like younger children who need college education funds, make it clear to all what the thoughts are behind the distribution.

Personal property is another source of conflict within blended families. If first-family heirlooms are claimed by second-family children, the whole family could be headed to court. Create a document that makes your wishes clear about which child should get what possessions and attach it to your will with the help of your estate planning attorney.

If you leave everything to your spouse, there’s no way to be sure your own children will inherit anything. There is a chance that after your death, the ties between children and stepparents could weaken. You may need to leave money for your children in a trust that provides income to the spouse for life.

Discuss your options with an estate planning attorney.

Reference: AARP (July/August 2018)

“Don’t Split Heirs With Your Estate”

Why You Need an Estate Attorney

Th (2)When a loved one passes away, it is a good idea to get the assistance of an estate attorney, if for no other reason than to deal with all of the paperwork. 

The government has many things it is very particular about.  However, you are not likely to notice one of those things very much. That is that property all needs to be traceable to a particular owner or owners.

This is important to the government for tax purposes. However, as you do not generally get all your property at one time, it is not always that noticeable. It is not a lot of paperwork for most individual pieces of property.

When someone passes away, things change. Then there is a lot of property that needs to change ownership and there is a lot of paperwork that needs to be done at once, as U.S. News & World Report discusses in "How to Deal With the Paperwork Scramble After a Spouse Dies."

It is easy to get overwhelmed and make costly mistakes when there is that much paperwork to fill out and file in such a short period of time. Those mistakes require even more paperwork and time to fix. People who are grieving and who do not know all the things that need to be done, make these mistakes all the time.

There is a good way to avoid most mistakes. Hire an estate attorney who can help with the process. The attorney knows what needs to be done and has staff to help with the paperwork.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (June 19, 2018) "How to Deal With the Paperwork Scramble After a Spouse Dies."

 

Dodging an Unpopular Tax Provision

MP900442233The recently passed federal tax overhaul limits deductions for state and local taxes to $10,000.  It has not been popular with those affected. Estate planning attorneys might have found a way around it.

The new tax laws that were passed in December of 2017 have been controversial. Some people are very happy with the changes.  However, most people have found something they do not like about them. One of the more controversial changes was that the itemized deduction for state and local taxes was limited to $10,000.

People who own expensive property in high tax states are not happy that as it will increase their taxes, in many cases. Initially, some state governments tried to figure out a way around the limit for their citizens, but the IRS shot most of those down. Some estate planning attorneys might have found a solution though, as Bloomberg reports in "How the Rich Can Dodge Trump's Property Tax Hike."

The idea is to first create an LLC in a non-tax state such as Delaware or Alaska. Real estate ownership is then transferred to the LLC. After that, several non-grantor trusts are created. Ownership of the LLC is then divided up and transferred to the new trusts. When tax time comes around, each non-grantor trust can take a $10,000 deduction for any property taxes that were paid by the LLC. Effectively, the new deduction limit can be rendered moot.  Ask your local estate planning attorney about this practice.

The IRS could issue a new regulation against this practice.  However, estate planners think it will work.

Reference: Bloomberg (June 15, 2018) "How the Rich Can Dodge Trump's Property Tax Hike."

 

Social Security Can Be Fixed

MP900390083 (1) People who are opposed to the Social Security system claim that it is about to go broke and disappear soon. That is not true.

Social Security opponents and opponents of government spending in general, like to make the claim that Social Security is going to go broke or bankrupt. They then normally use this piece of information to get people to support cuts to Social Security benefits or increases to the age of retirement.

They are using  recent government reporst as ammunition to suggest that if something is not done, then Social Security will go broke in 2022. The problem is the claim is not true, as Forbes discusses in "Fake News: Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke."

Social Security currently takes in more money every year than it pays out in benefits. That has created a surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund. What will happen in 2022 is that, due to demographic changes, Social Security will start paying out more than it takes in. However, since there is a surplus, current benefits will not have to change. The surplus can be spent down. It will not run out until 2034. When that happens, Social Security will not disappear. Instead benefits will be cut slightly, as the program will only be able to pay out as much money as it takes in.

This means is that politicians have a lot of time to fix Social Security, if they are willing to do so. They do not need to raise the retirement age or cut benefits. They can also fix things by increasing funding for the program.

Reference: Forbes (June 18, 2018) "Fake News: Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke."

 

Funding a Trust

Irish-handsAfter creating a trust, you need to fund it. That does not have to be a difficult process.

One of the many problems of “discount” trusts, either from a trust service or an online document service, is that they never get around to funding the trust. When the settlor passes away, the trust does not work as intended, because there are no assets in it to be distributed according to the terms of the trust. The time and money spent creating the trust were all wasted.

Trusts must be funded. That does not mean just putting money in them. It means transferring the title of property to the trust, as the Times Herald-Record discusses in "How to transfer assets to a trust."

Transferring title of property differs for different types of assets. However, it does not need to be difficult for any asset type. It is mostly a matter of filling out the right paperwork and getting that paperwork to the proper authority. For example, when you purchased your home, the title was transferred to you and registered with your local Register of Deeds. You just need to do the same thing for the trust this time.

There is someone who can help you make sure that your trust is properly funded. That is an estate planning attorney who knows how to transfer title in different asset types. This is one reason why it is better to hire an attorney to create a trust, instead of using a cheaper service. It helps make sure that your trust gets funded and will be effective when it is needed.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 31, 2018) "How to transfer assets to a trust." 

Why You Need an Estate Planning Attorney

Why You Need an Estate Planning Attorney

MP900400337You might think that you do not need professional assistance for your estate plan because you know who you want to get what. There is more to estate planning than that.

It is actually easy to create an estate plan for yourself. You can simply write your own will, directing who should get what pieces of property.  If you execute that will properly with witnesses and signatures, your will can be probated.

If you are not certain that is the best idea and would like a little bit more help, download some prepared forms to fill out from an online service at a low cost. The ease of doing that might make you think that an estate planning attorney is not necessary.  However, there are other reasons to see an attorney, as the Huntsville Item points out in "Do you really need an estate planning attorney?"

Those other reasons include:

  • The estate planning attorney knows about property law and how different types of property are handled differently by courts. If you do not get this correct in your will, your estate can face difficulties.
  • There are different types of estate planning documents that do different things. Estate planning attorneys can help you pick the right ones for your unique circumstances.
  • Estate taxes are still a concern at the federal level for many people and in several states. A professional is needed to properly plan around them.
  • The attorney can also help craft your estate plan in a way that compliments your other financial goals, often including paying less in taxes.

Reference: The Huntsville Item (May 21, 2018) "Do you really need an estate planning attorney?"

 

Planned Giving

Giving-to-charity2One of the ways that you can leave a good legacy behind, is to provide money to charity in your estate plan.

Your worth is likely more than the sum total of your assets. You have worth that does not have any direct monetary value. Your capacity to like and love your friends and family cannot be given a monetary value, for example. However, in estate planning, it can often seem like the only thing you will have left at the time you pass away, are assets that have monetary value and need to be given to other people.

You cannot give away your capacity to love after death. However, that does not mean your other value has to be left out of your estate plan completely. You can use your estate plan for planned charitable giving, as the Nashua Telegraph discusses in "Planning to give and leaving a lasting legacy."

Planned giving is simply making provisions in your estate plan that a certain amount of money or a percentage of your estate's assets should be given to charity. It is a popular option for people. It is popular not only with the wealthy, but also with people of more modest means who want to leave something behind for good causes.

There are several different ways you can make charitable donations a part of your estate. Some are as simple as a few lines written into a will and others are for more complicated, including setting up special trusts for the purpose. An estate planning attorney can help you choose the best way to do so.

Reference: Nashua Telegraph (May 20, 2018) "Planning to give and leaving a lasting legacy."

Estate Planning, Wills, Trusts

Your Executor Is Important

One of the simplest things that you can do to help prevent your estate from facing difficulties, is to make the right choice about who your executor should be. MP900309139

People who get wills, normally put a lot of thought into how they would like their property to be distributed after they pass away. It is very important to them, that their wishes are carried out and everything goes to the appropriate heirs. However, often relatively little thought is put into who should make sure it all happens.

The person in charge is the executor. Instead of thinking about whether the person they are choosing is the right person, many people just pick a close friend or relative. This can be a very big mistake, if the person does not know what they are doing, as Forbes points out in "Choosing an Executor for Your Estate."

The executor of your estate will have a lot of work to do. There are often important tax decisions that need to be made quickly. The executor needs to determine what assets you have at the time you pass away.  However, they cannot just give those assets to the people you want to have them.

First, they need to go to probate court and be officially appointed to administer the estate. They will then need to determine, if you had any debt when you passed away. That debt normally needs to be paid out of your assets, before any property can be distributed.

Your executor needs to be someone who not only has the time to serve in the capacity, but also can handle administrative and financial tasks well. Put some thought into this important decision.

Reference: Forbes (May 16, 2018) "Choosing an Executor for Your Estate."

 

Why You Need an Estate Plan

If you think that you do not need an estate plan because you do not have very many assets, then you do not understand that estate planning is not just about your property. Mac-glasses

There are millions of Americans who do not have very many assets that need to be distributed after they pass away. It is not the case that they are all poor. Many of them are just younger people who have not yet lived long enough to accumulate assets.

People often think they do not really need estate plans, if they are young and with limited assets. In some sense they are correct.  If people do not own any real estate and do not have any other valuable property, it will not be too difficult for their families to handle their estates. However, estate planning is about more than that, as the Times Herald-Record discusses in "Everyone can benefit from an estate plan."

Almost all estate plans today also include some legal documents that are traditionally considered elder law documents. Despite the term "elder law", even young people need these documents because they are really about planning for disability.

That is planning for the possibility that you could have an accident or illness that does not kill you.  However, it can leave you legally incapacitated, even if it is only on a temporary basis. These documents include a health care power of attorney, so someone else has the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.  It also includes a general durable power of attorney, so someone else can handle your finances, if you are unable to do so.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 17, 2018) "Everyone can benefit from an estate plan."