Protect Your Pets After You’re Gone

Protect Your Pets After You’re Gone:  Currently, 67% of American households own at least one pet, and many people now consider long-term planning for them just as important as they would for two-legged family members, says The Atlanta Journal Constitution in the article “When you’re gone, what happens to your pets?”

If you think about it, our animal companions are completely vulnerable. They can’t take care of themselves. If something happens to their owners, it is possible that they could be taken to a shelter and euthanized. If you don’t want to be kept up at night worrying about this, a pet trust should be part of your conversation with an estate planning attorney.

Pets are viewed as valued members of the family in many homes. They provide companionship, and there have been studies showing that their presence helps to reduce stress. They often sleep in the same bed as their owners and go on vacations with their human family.

A 2018 Realtor.com survey found that 79% of millennials who purchased a home, said that they would pass on a home, no matter how perfect, if it did not meet the needs of their pets.

How can you protect your pets?

Understand that pets are considered property and have no legal rights. It’s entirely up to their owners to plan for their care. Some questions to consider:

  • What’s the difference between a pet trust and a will?
  • Do pet trust laws vary by state?
  • Is a trust independent from a will?
  • What happens to any funds left over, when the pet dies?
  • Can you tap 401(k) or other retirement funds to care for a pet?

To begin, look at the life expectancy of each pet and factor the average vet bill, food bill and any additional money in case of an emergency. The ASPCA says that the annual cost to care for a dog is between $737 to $1,404. Caring for a cat averages about $800. Of course, caring for cats or dogs depends upon the age, breed, weight and whether the animal has any medical needs. Some pets can live a very long time, like horses, and certain birds can live more than seventy years.

Next, identify caregivers who will commit to caring for your pets. You should then talk with your estate planning attorney. If you rely on an informal plan, your pet may be out of luck, if something happens to the caregivers, or if they have a change of heart.

A pet trust allows you to leave money to a loved one or friend to care for the pet in a trust that is legally binding. That means the money must be used for the pet’s care. It can be very specific, including how often the pet should go to the vet and what its standard of living should be. The executor or lawyer could go to court to enforce the contract.

Typically, the trustee holds property “in trust” for the benefit of the pet. Payments to a designated caregiver are made on a regular basis. The trust, depending upon the state in which it is established, continues for the life of the pet or 21 years, whichever comes first. Some states allow the pet trusts to continue beyond 21 years.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about protecting your pet. You’ll feel better knowing that you’ve put a plan into place for your beloved furry friends.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: The Atlanta Journal Constitution (September 24, 2019) “When you’re gone, what happens to your pets?”

 

New Technology Brings A New Aging Marker: Taking Away the Phone

New Technology Brings A New Aging Marker: Taking Away the Phone: At first, Dr. Z thought his 83-year old mother was simply confused when she called to say she’d forgotten passwords to her accounts. Then she’d say that the programs had stopped working. However, over time, he realized that she was showing early signs of dementia, as reported by Kaiser Health News in the article “The Delicate Issue of Taking Away a Senior’s Smartphone”

With seniors using cellphones, computers and tablets, another area of concern for older adults has emerged. Deteriorating cognitive skills may make it difficult for seniors to use these devices, even before other more classic signs of early dementia appear, like forgetting names or keys.

Determining whether to block access to bank and investment accounts or other online resources may present the same issues, as taking away car keys once did.

This issue reflects the growing use of technology by seniors to allow them to stay in touch with friends and family, join interest groups, visit virtually and do their banking and shopping online.

Some physicians are already adapting to this new digital reality. At Johns Hopkins Medicine, one professor of medicine now asks older patients if they use a computer or smartphone and are having trouble, including forgetting passwords or getting locked out of accounts.

If there’s a notable change in how someone is using technology, the practice now proceeds with a more in-depth cognitive evaluation.

At Rush University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, older adults are bringing up problems with technology, as a non-threating way to introduce their troubles with thinking. Instead of saying they are having memory issues, they say they are having problems with their smartphones or getting programs on their computer to work.

If technology becomes confusing, anything that is not essential should be removed from the smartphone or computer. When safety becomes an issue, such as seniors who are targeted by scammers, family members should counsel the senior against giving out their Social Security or credit card information.

Be cautious about getting someone’s passwords to check on their email or online bank or brokerage accounts. Without consent, it’s a federal crime to use another person’s password to access their accounts. Consent should be granted in writing.

Online shopping is another problem. Gain the person’s permission to unsubscribe from accounts that send emails and remove friends from Facebook. A parental control app blocks use, when the senior is not supervised and also blocks adult content.

For others, the use of a “stored value” card that has a limited amount of money can be used, in place of a credit card. Credit bureaus need to be notified not to open accounts in someone’s name.

Talk with an estate planning attorney to learn how to cope with an adult with cognitive problems and their online life. This is a new area in elder care, and it will become increasingly prevalent, as boomers age.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Kaiser Health News (September 26, 2019) “The Delicate Issue of Taking Away a Senior’s Smartphone”

 

A Will is the Way to Have Your Wishes Followed

A Will is the Way to Have Your Wishes Followed: A will, also known as a last will and testament, is one of three documents that make up the foundation of an estate plan, according to The News Enterprises’ article “To ensure your wishes are followed, prepare a will.” As any estate planning attorney will tell you, the other two documents are the Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney. These three documents all serve different purposes, and work together to protect an individual and their family.

There are a few situations where people may think they don’t need a will, but not having one can create complications for the survivors.

First, when spouses with jointly owned property don’t have a will, it is because they know that when the first spouse dies, the surviving spouse will continue to own the property. However, with no will, the spouse might not be the first person to receive any property that is not jointly owned, like a car.  Even when all property is jointly owned—that means the title or deed to all and any property is in both person’s names –upon the death of the second spouse, a case will have to be brought to court through probate to transfer property to heirs.

Secondly, any individuals with beneficiary designations on accounts transfer to the beneficiaries on the owner’s death, with no court involvement. However, the same does not always work for POD, or payable on death accounts. A POD account only transfers the specific account or asset.

Other types of assets, such as real estate and vehicles not jointly owned, will have to go through probate. If the beneficiary named on any accounts has passed, their share will go into the estate, forcing distribution through probate.

Third, people who do not have a large amount of assets often believe they don’t need to have a will because there isn’t much to transfer. Here’s a problem: with no will, nothing can be transferred without court approval. Let’s say your estate brings a wrongful death lawsuit and wins several hundred thousand dollars in a settlement. The settlement goes to your estate, which now has to go through probate.

Fourth, there is a belief that having a power of attorney means that they can continue to pay the expenses of property and distribute property after the grantor dies. This is not so. A power of attorney expires on the death of the grantor. An agent under a power of attorney has no power, after the person dies.

Fifth, if a trust is created to transfer ownership of property outside of the estate, a will is necessary to funnel unfunded property into the trust upon the death of the grantor. Trusts are created individually for any number of purposes. They don’t all hold the same type of assets. Property that is never properly retitled, for instance, is not in the trust. This is a common error in estate planning. A will provides a way for property to get into the trust, upon the death of the grantor.

With no will and no estate plan, property may pass unintentionally to someone you never intended to give your life’s work to. Having a will lets the court know who should receive your property. The laws of your state will be used to determine who gets what in the absence of a will, and most are based on the laws of kinship. Speak with an estate planning attorney to create a will that reflects your wishes, and don’t wait to do so. Leaving yourself and your loved ones unprotected by a will, is not a welcome legacy for anyone.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: The News Enterprise (September 22, 2019) “To ensure your wishes are followed, prepare a will.”

 

10 Steps to Prevent Children From Squabbling Over Your Estate (1 of 2)

10 Steps to Prevent Children From Squabbling Over Your Estate:   Parents that have more than one child know what it’s like to referee sibling rivalries during childhood, but rarely give much thought to how those childhood squabbles could escalate in adulthood over an estate once the parents are gone.

Here are 10 steps you can take to keep peace in the family:

  1. Talk to children about your estate plan. It may be a difficult discussion to have, but you need to have it.  If you find it too difficult, enlist the help of your estate planning attorney to go over the details of your estate plan with your children and answer their questions.
  2. Write your children a letter. If you can’t face a face-to-face discussion, put it in writing with as much detail as you are comfortable providing to your children.  You can frame the discussion in general terms and ask for their input.
  3. Email your children your estate plan summary. Your estate planning attorney will usually provide you with a summary of your estate plan that doesn’t disclose actual dollar amounts.  Ask your estate planning attorney to copy your children on an email with the summary and ask for their input.
  4. For complex estates, consider a mediator. If you have a complicated estate that may include valuable collections or a family business, consider engaging the services of a professional mediator who can meet with you and your children separately to identify any potential issues and then meet with you together to iron out those issues.
  5. Use equal treatment. If possible, leave your children an equal inheritance outright; most family fights result from children being treated unequally.

    Please see our next blog for part 2 of 10 Steps to Prevent Children From Squabbling Over Your Estate

    It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Probate Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information from a Fort Myers estate planning Attorney, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

How Will New Legislation Update Social Security?

People with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income would be allowed to keep a few more assets and wouldn’t be penalized for marrying under a new proposal, according to Disability Scoop’s recent article, “Lawmakers Look To Update SSI Program.”

Right now, in order to retain benefits, SSI recipients generally can have no more than $2,000 to their name at any given time. However, Congress is looking to significantly increase that ceiling, with a bill introduced this month that would increase SSI’s asset limit to $10,000 for an individual and $20,000 for couples.

The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act would also increase the amount of disregarded income that beneficiaries can collect monthly.

The bill would also repeal penalties for marrying or receiving financial, food, and housing assistance from family members.

Supporters of the Act say it’s time to update Social Security’s SSI program, which has remained largely static since 1972.

“This issue is one I have heard about directly from autism advocates and families in our district, particularly parents preparing for children with disabilities to transition into adulthood,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., who introduced the measure along with Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.

“This bill brings the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program’s outdated limits up to speed with inflation—a common-sense adjustment that will make a huge difference for individuals and families caring for someone with disabilities.”

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Disability Scoop (September 23, 2019) “Lawmakers Look To Update SSI Program”

 

Dark Side of Medicaid Means You Need Estate Planning

Dark Side of Medicaid Means You Need Estate Planning:  A woman in Massachusetts, age 62, is living in her family’s home on borrowed time. Her late father did all the right things: saving to buy a home and then buying a life-insurance policy to satisfy the mortgage on his passing, with the expectation that he had secured the family’s future. However, as reported in the article “Medicaid’s Dark Secret” in The Atlantic, after the father died and the mother needed to live in a nursing home as a consequence of Alzheimer’s, the legacy began to unravel.

Just weeks after her mother entered the nursing home, her daughter received a notice that MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, had placed a lien on the house. She called MassHealth; her mother had been a longtime employee of Boston Public Schools and there were alternatives. She wanted her mother taken off Medicaid. The person she spoke to at MassHealth said not to worry. If her mother came out of the nursing home, the lien would be removed, and her mother could continue to receive benefits from Medicaid.

The daughter and her husband moved to Massachusetts, took their mother out of the nursing home and cared for her full-time. They also fixed up the dilapidated house. To do so, they cashed in all of their savings bonds, about $100,000. They refinished the house and paid off the two mortgages their mother had on the house.

Her husband then began to show signs of dementia. Now, the daughter spent her days and nights caring for both her mother and her husband.

After her mother died, she received a letter from the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees MassHealth, notifying her that the state was seeking reimbursement from the estate for $198,660. She had six months to pay the debt in full, and after that time, she would be accruing interest at 12%. The state could legally force her to sell the house and take its care of proceeds to settle the debt. Her husband had entered the final stages of Alzheimer’s.

Despite all her calls to officials, none of whom would help, and her own research that found that there were in fact exceptions for adult child caregivers, the state rejected all of her requests for help. She had no assets, little income, and no hope.

State recovery for Medicaid expenditures became mandatory, as part of a deficit reduction law signed by President Bill Clinton. Many states resisted instituting the process, even going to court to defend their citizens. The federal government took a position that federal funds for Medicaid would be cut if the states did not comply. However, other states took a harder line, some even allowing pre-death liens, taking interest on past-due debts or limiting the number of hardship waivers. The law gave the states the option to expand recovery efforts, including medical expenses, and many did, collecting for every doctor’s visit, drug, and surgery covered by Medicaid.

Few people are aware of estate recovery. It’s disclosed in the Medicaid enrollment forms but buried in the fine print. It’s hard for a non-lawyer to know what it means. When it makes headlines, people are shocked and dismayed. During the rollout of the Obama administration’s Medicaid expansion, more people became aware of the fine print. At least three states passed legislation to scale back recovery policies after public outcry.

The Medicaid Recovery program is a strong reason for families to meet with an elder law attorney and make a plan. Assets can be placed in irrevocable trusts, or deeds can be transferred to family members. There are many strategies to protect families from estate recovery. This issue should be on the front burner of anyone who owns a home, or other assets, who may need to apply for Medicaid at some point in the future. Avoiding probate is one part of estate planning, avoiding Medicaid recovery is another.

Since the laws are state-specific, consult an elder law attorney in your state.

Reference: The Atlantic (October 2019) “Medicaid’s Dark Secret”

 

Do you know what a Pour-over will is?

If the goal of estate planning is to avoid probate, it seems counter-intuitive that one would sign a will, but the pour-over will is an essential part of some estate plans, reports the Times Herald-Record’s article “Pour-over will a safety net for a living trust.”

If a person dies with assets in their name alone, those assets go through probate. The pour-over will names the trust as the beneficiary of probate assets, so the trust controls who receives the inheritance. The pour-over will works as a backup plan to the trust, and it also revokes past wills and codicils.

Living trusts became more widely used after a 1991 AARP study concluded that families should be using trusts rather than wills, and that wills were obsolete. Trusts were suddenly not just for the wealthy. Middle class people started using trusts rather than wills, to save time and money and avoid estate battles among family members. Trusts also served to keep financial and personal affairs private. Wills that are probated are public documents that anyone can review.

Even a simple probate lasts about a year, before beneficiaries receive inheritances. A trust can be settled in months. Regarding the cost of probate, it is estimated that between 2—4% of the cost of settling an estate can be saved by using a trust instead of a will.

When a will is probated, family members receive a notice, which allows them to contest the will. When assets are in a trust, there is no notification. This avoids delay, costs and the aggravation of a will contest.

Wills are not a bad thing, and they do serve a purpose. However, this specific legal document comes with certain legal requirements.

The will was actually invented more than 500 years ago, by King Henry VIII of England. Many people still think that wills are the best estate planning document, but they may be unaware of the government oversight and potential complications when a will is probated.

There are other ways to avoid probate on death. First, when a beneficiary is added to assets like bank accounts, IRAs, life insurance policies, or stock funds, those assets transfer directly to the beneficiary upon the death of the owner. Second, when an asset is owned JTWROS, or as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship,” the ownership interest transfers to the surviving owners.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to talk about how probate may impact your heirs and see if they believe the use of a trust and a pour-over will would make the most sense for your family.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 13, 2019) “Pour-over will a safety net for a living trust.”

 

The Art of Being a Smart Snowbird

The Art of Being a Smart Snowbird:    The interstates get busy in September, when retirees take to the highways to leave the north behind and head to their southern or southwestern homes, reports Next Avenue in “7 Tips for Being a Successful Snowbird.” Some snowbirds have a more enjoyable experience than others, in part because of their preparation.

Here are a few lessons from the experienced snowbirds:

Choose a location that suits you. Don’t confuse a cold-weather home with a vacation spot. You’ll be living your daily life here. Therefore, you want to find the activities that you enjoy on a regular basis. If your regular life at home is busy and you like it that way, moving to a laid-back beach town or an isolated cabin in the woods may not be a good fit for more than a few days.

Look before you leap. Rent a place for a month or two, before committing to spending an entire winter there. You can’t know if you love a place before you live there for an extended period of time. If you’re not happy, you can try someplace else. Once you find the right spot, book the whole winter. Book the whole next winter as well. Good spots go fast.

Switch bills to be paid online. Before everything was online, it was tricky to take care of your home bills while living somewhere else. Make all your bills payable online or put them on autopay. If your bank doesn’t have a branch nearby, open an account in a nearby bank and link with your home bank, so you can easily move money between accounts.

Make new friends and new connections. One of the adjustments of snowbird life is leaving family and friends back up north. If you are in a community with lots of snowbirds, they are likely to be in the same position as you. Introduce yourself, join clubs and get active.

Don’t overbook your time with guests. You may love having friends come down, but being a frequent host takes a lot of time and energy. Don’t turn your winter residence into a bed and breakfast. Don’t be afraid to limit the number of nights for your house guests. This is your home, not a hotel.

Make it a second home if you own it. If you buy rather than rent, it’s easier to keep some things there. Therefore, you are not lugging quite as much back and forth. However, even in a rental, you may be able to store some items, or rent a small storage unit nearby. Doing so will make travelling easier, and your snowbird nest will feel more like home.

Enjoy the ride back and forth. There’s no need to rush, if you’re going to be staying for a few months. If you’ve always traveled by interstate, maybe a side trip along local roads will break up the monotony and create some new memories. Stop by to visit with relatives along the way, or the national park that you’ve been meaning to experience. Make the ride an enjoyable part of your journey.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 13, 2019)  “7 Tips for Being a Successful Snowbird.”

 

Can You Protect Your Home If You Need Medicaid?

Can You Protect Your Home If You Need Medicaid? Anyone who owns a home, whether a magnificent mansion or a modest ranch, worries about the possibility of losing the home because of long-term care. How can they keep the home for their spouse or even for their family, if they need to apply to Medicaid for long-term nursing care costs?

The problem, reports The Mercury in a recent article “Protecting your house and Medicaid” is often the strategies that people come up with on their own. They usually don’t work.

The first thought of someone who is confronted with the need to qualify for Medicaid is to immediately transfer ownership of the family home to another person. The idea is to take the home out of their countable assets. But unless the person who receives the house is an adult child, that transfer only leads to problems.

Medicaid’s basic premise is that if you can afford to pay for your own care, you should. Transfer of a home, let’s say one with a value of $400,000, means that a $400,000 gift has been given to someone. There is a five-year lookback period. Any assets given away or transferred in that five-year period means that you had the asset under your control. Medicaid will not pay for your care in that case.

There are some exceptions to the gifting rules, but this is not something to be navigated without the help of an experienced elder law estate planning attorney. Here are the exceptions:

Your spouse. It’s understood that your spouse needs a place to live, and a transfer of the home to your spouse does not result in penalties under Medicaid rules. This usually means transfer from title as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants by the entireties to the healthier wife or husband. It is also understood that a transfer to your spouse at home is not a disqualifying transfer. This is a common practice and part of Medicaid planning.

A disabled child. A parent may transfer a house to their disabled child on the theory that it is needed for self-support. It is not necessary for a child to lose a home, because a parent will be on Medicaid. This is a common mistake, and completely avoidable. Talk with an elder law attorney to learn more.

If a child is a caretaker. An adult child who moves in with the parents for a period of at least two years to care for them so they could stay at home and avoid going to a nursing home, or if the child has lived with their parents for longer than that and they need this care at home, under federal law the home can be transferred to the child without penalty and the parent can go to a nursing home and receive care under Medicaid. This is another very common mistake that causes adult children to be left without a home.

For a person who is single or a widow or widower who will never move home after moving into a Medicaid certified nursing home, the house may be sold, and planning can be done with the proceeds of the sale. Paying bills to maintain a vacant home for no reason and having the government take the home as a creditor through the estate recovery program does not make sense. An elder lawyer estate planning attorney can help navigate this complex and often overwhelming process.

It is our goal to provide our clients with the highest level of legal services in the areas of Last Will and Testaments, Living Trust, Irrevocable Trusts, Estate Planning, Asset Protection, and complete Business Planning. If you or someone you know needs information on Florida estate planning, please contact us today at 239-418-0169 to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: The Mercury (July 31, 2019) “Protecting your house and Medicaid”