When Is It Time to Update A Will?

Notice that the title is not “if” you need to update a will, but “when.” A will is like the family pet—it can protect the house and demonstrate your love for your family. However, you have to take care of it.

People often comment when they complete their estate planning, that they feel so good to have done this very important task. It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve made the necessary preparations to protect your family and preserve your legacy. However, this is not a one-and-done event.

Thrive Global’s recent article, “7 Reasons Why You Need to Review your Will Right Now,” says it’s extremely important that you regularly update your will to avoid any potential confusion and extra stress for your family at a very emotional time. As circumstances change, you need to have your will reflect changes in your life. As time passes and your situation changes, your will may become invalid, obsolete or even create added confusion, when the time comes for your will to be administered.

New people in your life. If you do have more children after you’ve created your will, review your estate plan to make certain that the wording is still correct. You may also marry or re-marry, and grandchildren may be born that you want to include. Make a formal update to your estate plan to include the new people who play an important part in your life and to remove those with whom you lose touch.

A beneficiary or other person dies. If a person you had designated as a beneficiary or executor of your will has died, you must make a change or it could result in confusion, when the time comes for your estate to be distributed. You need to update your will, if an individual named in your estate passes away before you.

Divorce. If your will was created prior to a divorce, and you want to remove your ex from your estate plan, talk to an estate planning attorney about the changes you need to make.

Your spouse dies. Wills should be written in such a way as to always have a backup plan in place. For example, if your husband or wife dies before you, their portion of your estate might go to another family member or another named individual. If this happens, you may want to redistribute your assets to other people.

A child becomes an adult. When a child turns 18 and comes of age, she is no longer a dependent.  Therefore, you may need to update your will in any areas that provided additional funds for any dependents.

You experience a change in your financial situation. This is a great opportunity to update your will to protect your new financial situation.

You change your mind. It’s your will, and you can change your mind whenever you like.

No matter how good it is, the will that was created four years ago is not necessarily the right will for you now. Tax laws have changed and your life probably has had some changes too. You may not need to revise the entire estate plan, but sit down with an estate planning attorney for a review. Don’t neglect your beneficiary designations—they need to be reviewed and updated too.

Reference: Thrive Global (June 17, 2019) “7 Reasons Why You Need to Review your Will Right Now”

 

How To Avoid Senior Financial Abuse

How To Avoid Senior Financial Abuse:  Medical research has demonstrated a clear link between accelerated cognitive aging to financial vulnerability, even without any kind of dementia. In other words, as described in the article “Be prepared to avoid financial exploitation” from SBJ, we may feel fine and we may be fine, but our cognitive abilities change as we age.

One of the first signs of cognitive decline is diminished financial capacity, or the progressive loss of a person’s ability to manage banking and investment decisions. If you have an aging parent, you may have seen them struggle with tasks that were previously easy for them to do, like balancing a checkbook or tracking investments.

It’s estimated that for every 44 cases of senior financial abuse, only one is reported to authorities.  In a 2010 study by a nonprofit, one in five adults 65 and older have been a victim of financial fraud or manipulation.

There are several actions that can be taken to mitigate the risk of financial fraud and exploitation. However, the first one is planning before signs of cognitive impairment are seen. Here’s how:

Financial preparation. First, designate a trusted emergency contact for all financial accounts to receive information, if the institution suspects exploitation. Have an estate planning attorney create a durable power of attorney to appoint a trusted individual to act on your behalf. “Durable” means that it will remain in effect, even if you become incapacitated.

Prepare a will to dispose of assets after your death.

Don’t discuss your will or any financial matters with people who are new in your life. That includes caregivers, the new neighbor down the street or people who call claiming some distant connection.

Monitor your credit report and stay up to date with the latest in scams. Seniors are now being targeted by thieves presenting themselves as calling from the Social Security Administration and threatening to cut off benefits. The SSA does not call to threaten individuals, and it never asks for payment in gift cards.

Plan how to transition your financial accounts. That may mean having a professional manage your finances, but make sure they are a licensed fiduciary, so that your interests must come first. Your estate planning attorney may know of these services.

Not all financial institutions have addressed the issue of safeguarding customers from financial fraud and exploitation. Find out what your bank, financial advisor and investment companies are doing. Do they monitor accounts for unusual transactions? What tools are available to account holders to detect suspicious activity?

Speak with your estate planning attorney about making sure all  your legal documents are properly prepared for any cognitive decline, to protect yourself and your family.

Reference: SBJ (June 10, 2019) “Be prepared to avoid financial exploitation”

 

These Money Mistakes Add Up Fast

It’s not how much you earn, but how much you keep that makes the difference in lifestyle and retirement. Keep more of your hard-earned money, by making fewer money mistakes.

Some of the most common money mistakes cost thousands of dollars. All you need to do is pay attention to avoid them, says Motley Fool in the article, “5 Money Mistakes You Probably Don’t Even Realize You’re Making.” See if any of these sound familiar and take control of your financial health today.

No clue to recurring charges. Unless you regularly review your credit card bills, you can easily miss monthly charges that you don’t need, like not cancelling a gym membership. Some automatic monthly charges increase over time, which you won’t notice unless you’re checking those bills.

Working too long at a job. You may believe that you’ve done well to have stayed at your current job for long time. However, in order to maximize your income, you might want to think about moving to a better paying job. The human resource management company ADP studied data on 24 million workers, and found that workers get their biggest increases in salaries, when they’ve been at a job for more than two years, but not more than five years.

Failing to request a raise. It is true that job-hopping isn’t for everyone. However, you can earn more in your current position, by asking for a raise. A recent PayScale survey found that among those who asked for a raise at work, about 70% received some sort of increase. However, only 37% ever asked for a raise.

Failing to regularly review your insurance. Insurance isn’t something to set and forget, if you want to keep your costs down. Take some time every year to contact a variety of insurers to review your coverage for each kind of insurance and to get new quotes. Shopping around for better rates regularly, can potentially save you hundreds of dollars per year. Another way to save on insurance is to bundle your policies with one carrier.

Failing to have an estate plan. Everyone needs to have a will prepared, a power of attorney for finances, a health care power of attorney and a living will. People procrastinate and then life happens. Their spouses or children are left to go to court for the ability to manage finances, or the wrong heirs receive an inheritance. Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to create the estate plan that is right for you and your family. Don’t neglect to check your beneficiary designations on retirement and investment accounts, as well as on any life insurance policies you own.

Reference: Motley Fool (June 12, 2019) “5 Money Mistakes You Probably Don’t Even Realize You’re Making”

Elder Law: Long-Term Care Costs

There are many misunderstandings about long-term or nursing home care and how to plan from a financial and legal standpoint. The article “Five myths about nursing home costs and estate planning” from The Sentinel seeks to clarify the facts and dispel the myths. Some of the truths may be a little hard to hear, but they are important to know.

Myth One: Before any benefits can be received for nursing home care, a married couple must have spent at least half of their assets and everything but $120,000. If the person receiving nursing home care is single, they must spend almost all assets on the cost of care, before they qualify for aid.

Fact: Nursing homes have no legal duty to advise anyone before or after they are admitted about this myth.

Several opportunities to spend money on items other than a nursing home, include home improvements, debt retirement, a new car and funeral prepayment. An elder law attorney will know how to use a Medicaid-compliant annuity to preserve assets, without spending them on the cost of care, depending on state law.

There are people who say that an attorney should not help a client take advantage of legally permitted methods to save their money. If they don’t like the laws, let them lobby to change them. Experienced elder law and estate planning attorneys help middle-class clients preserve their life savings, much like millionaires use CPAs to minimize annual federal income taxes.

Myth Two: The nursing home will take our family’s home, if we cannot pay for the cost of care.

Fact: Nursing homes do not want and will not take your home. They just want to be paid. If you can’t afford to pay, the state will use Medicaid money to pay, as long as the family meets the eligibility requirements. The state may eventually attach a collection lien against the estate of the last surviving homeowner to recover funds that the state has used for care.

A good elder law attorney will know how to help the family meet those requirements, so that the adult children are not sued by the nursing home for filial responsibility collection rights, if applicable under state law. The attorney will also know what exceptions and legal loopholes can be used to preserve the family home and avoid estate recovery liens.

Myth Three. We’ve promised our parents that they’ll never go to a nursing home.

Fact: There is a good chance that an aging parent, because of dementia or the various frailties of aging, will need to go to a nursing home at some point, because the care that is provided is better than what the family can do at home.

What our loved ones really want is to know that they won’t be cast off and abandoned, and that they will get the best care possible. When home care is provided by a spouse over an extended period of time, often both spouses end up needing care.

Myth Four: I love my children equally, so I am going to make all of them my legal agent.

Fact: It’s far better for one child to be appointed as the legal agent, so that disagreements between siblings don’t impact decisions. If health care decisions are delayed because of differing opinions, the doctor will often make the decision for the patient. If children don’t get along in the best of circumstances, don’t expect that to change with an aging parent is facing medical, financial and legal issues in a nursing home.

Myth Five. We did our last will and testament years ago, and nothing’s changed, so we don’t need to update anything.

Fact: The most common will leaves everything to a spouse, and thereafter everything goes to the children. That’s fine, until someone has dementia or is in a nursing home. If one spouse is in the nursing home and receiving government benefits, eligibility for the benefits will be lost, if the other spouse dies and leaves assets to the spouse who is receiving care in the nursing home.

A fundamental asset preservation strategy is to make changes to the will. It is not necessary to cut the spouse out of the will, but a well-prepared will can provide for the spouse, preserve assets and comply with state laws about minimal spousal election.

When there has been a diagnosis of early stage dementia, it is critical that an estate planning attorney’s help be obtained as soon as possible, while the person still has legal capacity to make changes to important documents.

The important lesson for all the myths and facts above: see an experienced estate planning elder law attorney to make sure you are prepared for the best care and to preserve assets.

Reference: The Sentinel (May 10, 2019) “Five myths about nursing home costs and estate planning”

 

Is My Irrevocable Trust Revocable?

Is My Irrevocable Trust Revocable?:  Irrevocable trusts aren’t as irrevocable as their name implies, according to Barron’s recent article, “Are Irrevocable Trusts True to Their Name?” The article says that, for both new and existing trusts, there are ways to build in flexibility to make changes to a grantor’s wishes, if terms are no longer appropriate or desirable for beneficiaries.

However, there are strict rules that apply. These rules vary between states. One of the main reasons for an irrevocable trust, is to remove assets from an estate for estate tax purposes. If the rules aren’t followed carefully, a trust can be rendered unlawful. If that happens, the assets may be returned to the grantor’s estate and estate taxes may apply.

If you want to be certain that beneficiaries have some discretion in the future if circumstances change, grantors should build flexibility into the trust when it’s established. This can be accomplished by giving a power of appointment to beneficiaries. However, if the beneficiaries are looking to change the terms or the structure of an existing trust, the trust must be modified, according to state law.

Most states allow trusts to be decanted. When you decant a trust, you pour its terms into a new trust, and leave out the parts that are no longer wanted. Just like decanting a bottle of wine, it’s like the sediment left in the wine bottle.

In a state that doesn’t permit decanting, a trustee can ask a judge to allow it. You should be careful with decanting, because you don’t want to do anything that would adversely affect the original tax attributes of the trust.

The power of appointment in a trust or the ability to decant can’t be given to the person who set up the trust. Thus, grantors can’t have a “re-do” or rescind the terms. It’s only trustees and the beneficiaries that can do that.

If you and your attorney create a trust with a lot of flexibility for the trustee, you may want to appoint an institutional trustee from a bank, trust, or other financial services company.

They can be either the sole trustee or serve as co-trustees with a personal, non-institutional trustee, like a family member. This can help to eliminate future conflicts.

Reference: Barron’s (June 18, 2019) “Are Irrevocable Trusts True to Their Name?”

 

Protecting Kids from Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon

Protecting your children from frittering away an inheritance, is often done through a spendthrift trust but that trust can also be used to protect them from divorce and other problems that can come their way, according to Kiplinger in “How to Keep Your Heirs from Blowing Their Inheritance.”

We all want the best for our kids, and if we’ve been fortunate, we are happy to leave them with a nice inheritance that makes for a better life. However, regardless of how old they are, we know our  children best and what they are capable of. Some adults are simply not prepared to handle a significant inheritance. They may have never learned how to manage money or may be involved with a significant other who you fear may not have their best interests in mind. If there’s a problem with drug or alcohol use, or if they are not ready for the responsibility that comes with a big inheritance, there are steps you can take to help them.

Don’t feel bad if your children aren’t ready for an inheritance. How many stories do we read about lottery winners who go through all their winnings and end up filing for bankruptcy?

An inheritance of any size needs to be managed with care.

A spendthrift trust protects heirs, by providing a trustee with the authority to control how the beneficiary can use the funds. A trust becomes a spendthrift trust, when the estate planning attorney who creates it uses specific language indicating that the trust qualifies as such, and by including limitations to the beneficiary’s control of the funds.

A spendthrift trust also protects assets from creditors, because the heir does not own the assets. The trust owns the assets. This also protects the assets from divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies. It’s a good way to keep the money out of the hands of manipulative partners, family members and friends.

Once the money is paid from the trust, the protections are gone. However, while the money is in the trust, it enjoys protection.

The trustee in a spendthrift trust has a level of control that is granted by you, the grantor of the trust. You can stipulate that the trustee is to make a set payment to the beneficiary every month, or that the trustee decides how much money the beneficiary receives.

For instance, if the money is to be used to pay college tuition, the can write a check for tuition payments every semester, or they can put conditions on the heir’s academic performance and only pay the tuition, if those conditions are met.

For a spendthrift trust, carefully consider who might be able to take on this task. Be realistic about the family dynamics. A professional firm, bank, or investment company may be a better, less emotionally involved trustee than an aunt or uncle.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 5, 2019) “How to Keep Your Heirs from Blowing Their Inheritance.”

 

What Does an Elder Law Attorney Really Do?

A knowledgeable elder law attorney will make certain that he represents the best interests of his senior client in a variety of situations that usually occur in an elderly person’s life.

An elder care attorney will also be very knowledgeable about several different areas of the law.

The Idaho Falls Spokesperson’s recent article, “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?” looks at some of the things an elder care attorney can do.

Elder care attorneys address long-term care issues, housing, quality of life, independence and autonomy—which are all critical issues concerning seniors.

Your elder law attorney knows that one of the main issues senior citizens face is sound estate planning. This may include planning for a minor or adult child with special needs, as well as probate proceedings, which is a process where a deceased person’s assets are collected and distributed to the heirs and creditors.

The probate process may also involve the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC is a set of inheritance rules written by national experts. A major responsibility of the probate process is to fully administer the entire estate, including appointing executors and ensuring that all assets are disbursed properly.

An experienced elder law attorney can also assist your family to make sure that your senior receives the best possible care arrangement, which may become more important as his or her medical needs increase.

An elder care law attorney also helps clients find the best nursing home to fully satisfy all their needs. Finally, they often will also work to safeguard assets to prevent spousal impoverishment, when one spouse must go to a nursing home.

A qualified elder care attorney can be a big asset to your family, as you journey through the elder care planning process. Working with an attorney to set up contingency plans can provide peace of mind and relief to you and your loved ones.

Reference: Idaho Falls Spokesperson (May 20, 2019) “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?”

 

Long Term Care Decisions Cause Challenges for Families

One year at an assisted living facility in New Hampshire has a median cost of $56,000, and the median annual cost of a semi-private room at a nursing home is $124,000, reports Genworth, a national insurance company known for its annual “cost of care” survey. Have your Long Term Care decisions been made?

Families are often surprised to learn that health insurance and Medicare will pay little, if any, of the costs of long-term care, reports New Hampshire Business Review in the article “The dilemma of long-term care.” Some may try caring for a loved one at home, but this is stressful and often becomes unmanageable. Assisted-living facilities can be wonderful alternatives, if the family can afford them. Long-term care insurance is considered one of the important financial protections as we age, but relatively few people have it.

A growing problem with Medicaid-paid care, is that it can be hard to find a facility that accepts it. Not to mention that the loved one’s assets have to be down to $2,500 (note: this number varies by state), which requires advance planning or becoming impoverished through the cost of care.

Most people have no idea how this part of healthcare works, and then when something occurs, the family is faced with a crisis.

The Department of Health and Human Services projects that as many as 70% of Americans age 65 and older will need long-term care during their lives, for roughly one to three years. Yet little more than a third of all Americans age 40 and older have set aside any money to pay for that care.

There are ways to pay for long-term care, but they require planning in advance. This is something people should start to look into, once they reach 50. The top reason to do the planning: to take the burden of care off of the shoulders of loved ones. From a strictly financial viewpoint, we should all start paying premiums on long-term care as soon as we become adults. However, not everyone does that.

Families pay for long-term care with a mixture of assets:

  • Personal savings provide the most flexibility. This is not an option for many, as one half of American households with workers 55 and older had no retirement savings.
  • Veterans disability benefits can be used for long-term care services, but the non-disability benefits available to veterans are more limited. They may cover in-home services and adult day care, but not rent at an assisted living facility.
  • If a loved one owns a home, they can take out a reverse mortgage and use the lump sum or monthly payout for long-term healthcare needs. The money is repaid, when the home is sold or passed on to an heir.
  • Medicare will pay for some long-term care, but only under very limited conditions. It may cover skilled nursing care in a facility but not the care for daily living activities, including toileting, dressing and others. Coverage is all expenses for the first 20 days in a facility and then there is a daily co-pay of about $170 for the next 80 days, when all coverage stops.
  • Medicaid is the source of last resort, but what many families eventually turn to.

Planning in advance for long-term care is the best option, and while premiums for long-term healthcare may seem expensive, having insurance is better than having no insurance. For many families, watching the costs consume a lifetime of savings is enough of a spur to planning for long-term care. Speak with an elder law attorney about to prepare for long-term care needs, as part of your estate plan.

Reference: New Hampshire Business Review (May 23, 2019) “The dilemma of long-term care”

 

What Should I Know: Estate Planning as a Single Parent

Every estate planning conversation eventually comes to center upon the children, regardless of whether they’re still young or adults.

Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney and let him or her know your overall perspective about your children, and what you see as their capabilities and limitations. This information can frequently determine whether you restrict their access to funds and how long those limitations should be in place, in the event you’re no longer around.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Estate Planning for Single Parents” explains that when one parent dies, the children typically don’t have to leave their home, school and community. However, when a single parent passes, a child may be required to move from that location to live with a relative or ex-spouse.

After looking at your children’s situation with your estate planning attorney to understand your approach to those relationships, you should then discuss your support network to see if there’s anyone who could serve in a formal capacity, if necessary. A big factor in planning decisions is the parent’s relationship with their ex. Most people think that their child’s other parent is the best person to take over full custody, in the event of incapacity or death. For others, this isn’t the case. As a result, their estate plan must be designed with great care. These parents should have a supportive network ready to advocate for the child.

Your estate planning attorney may suggest a trust with a trustee. This fund can accept funds from your estate, a retirement plan, IRA and life insurance settlement. This trust should be set up, so that any court that may be involved will have sound instructions to determine your wishes and expectations for your kids. The trust tells the court who you want to carry out your wishes and who should continue to be an advocate and influence in your child’s life.

Your will should also designate the child’s intended guardian, as well as an alternate, in case the surviving parent can’t serve for some reason. The trust should detail how funds should be spent, as well as the amount of discretion the child may be given and when, and who should be involved in the child’s life.

Your trust should state who has authorized visitation rights, including the right to keep the child for extended visits or for vacation. It should also name the persons who are permitted to advise or consent on major decisions in the child’s life, on issues about education, healthcare and activities.

A trust can be drafted in many ways, but a single parent should discuss all of their questions with an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 20, 2019) “Estate Planning for Single Parents”

 

‘Someday’ Is Sooner than You Think

The cause for sleepless nights for many, now comes from worrying about aging parents. As parents age, it becomes more important to talk with them about a number of “someday” issues, advises Kanawha Metro in the article “Preparing for someday.” As their lives move into the elder years, your discussions will need to address housing, finances and end-of-life wishes.

Where do your parents want to spend their later years? It may be that they want to move to an active retirement community not far from where they live now, or they may want a complete change of scenery, perhaps in a warmer climate.

One family made arrangements for their mother to take a tour of a nearby senior-living community, after their father passed. By showing their mother the senior-living community, they made an unknown, slightly intimidating thing into a familiar and attractive possibility. Because she saw the facility with no pressure, just a tour and lunch, she knew what kind of options it presented. The building was clean and pretty, and the staff was friendly. Therefore, it was a positive experience. She was able to picture herself living there.

Money becomes an issue, as parents age. If the person who always handled the family finances passes away, often the surviving spouse is left trying to figure out what has been done for the last five decades. A professional can help, especially if they have had a long-standing relationship.

However, when illness or an injury takes the surviving spouse out of the picture, even for a little while, things can get out of control fast. It only takes a few weeks of not being able to write checks or manage finances, to demonstrate the wisdom of having children or a trusted person named with a power of attorney to be able to pay bills and manage the household.

As parents age and their health becomes fragile, they need help with doctor appointments. Having a child or trusted adult go with them to speak up on their behalf, or explain any confusing matters, is very important.

Having an estate plan in place is another part of the business of aging that needs to be accomplished. It may be helpful to go with your parents to meet with an estate planning attorney to create documents that include a last will and testament, durable power of attorney and advanced health care directive. Without these documents, executing their estate or helping them if they become incapacitated will be more complex, and more costly.

Eliminate a scavenger hunt by making sure that at least two siblings know where the originals of these documents are.

One of the more difficult conversations has to do with end-of-life and funeral arrangements. Where do your parents want to be buried, or do they want to be cremated? What should be done with their remains?

What do they want to be done with their personal belongings? Are there certain items that they want to be given to certain members of the family, or other people they care for? One family used masking tape and a marker to write the names of the people they wanted to receive certain items.

Finally, what do they want to happen to their pets? If there is a family member who says they will take their parent’s pet, can that person be trusted to follow through? There needs to be a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C so that the beloved pet can be assured a long and comfortable life after their owner has passed.

Yes, these are difficult conversations. However, not having them can lead to far more difficult issues. Knowing what your loved ones wish to happen, and making it enforceable with an estate plan, provides everyone in the family with peace of mind.

Reference: Kanawha Metro (May 29, 2019) “Preparing for someday”