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.

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.”

 

Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate planning attorneys see them all the time: the mistakes that people make when they try to create an estate plan or a will by themselves. They learn about it, when families come to their offices trying to correct mistakes that could have been avoided just by seeking legal advice in the first place. That’s the message from the article “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’ from Dedham Wicked Local.

Here are the five estate planning mistakes that you can easily avoid:

Naming minors as beneficiaries. Beneficiary designations are a simple way to avoid probate and be certain that an asset goes to your beneficiary at death. Most life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts and other financial accounts permit you to name a beneficiary. Many well-meaning parents (and grandparents) name a grandchild or a child as a beneficiary. However, a minor is not permitted to own an asset. Therefore, the financial institution will not name the minor child as the new owner. A conservator must be appointed by the court to receive the asset on behalf of the child and they must hold that asset for the minor’s benefit, until the minor becomes of legal age. The conservator must file annual accountings with the court reflecting activity in the account and report on how any funds were used for the minor’s benefit, until the minor becomes a legal adult. The time, effort, and expense of this are unnecessary. Handing a large amount of money to a child the moment they become of legal age is rarely a good idea. Leaving assets in trust for the benefit of a minor or young adult, without naming them directly as a beneficiary, is one solution.

Drafting a will without the help of an estate planning attorney. The will created at the kitchen table or from an online template is almost always a recipe for disaster. They don’t include administrative provisions required by the state’s laws, provisions are ambiguous or conflicting and the documents are often executed incorrectly, rendering them invalid. Whatever money or time the person thought they were saving is lost. There are court fees, penalties and other costs that add up fast to fix a DIY will.

Adding joint owners to bank accounts. It seems like a good idea. Adding an adult child to a bank account, allows the child to help the parent with paying bills, if hospitalized or lets them pay post-death bills. If the amount of money in the account is not large, that may work out okay. However, the child is considered an owner of any account they are added to. If the child is sued, gets divorced, files for bankruptcy or has trouble with creditors, that bank account is an asset that can be reached.

Joint ownership of accounts after death can be an issue, if your will does not clearly state what your intentions are for that account. Do those funds go to the child, or should they be distributed between heirs? If wishes are unclear, expect the disagreements and bad feelings to be directly proportionate to the size of the account. Thoughtful estate planning, that includes power of attorney and trust planning, will permit access to your assets when needed and division of assets after your death in a manner that is consistent with your intentions.

Failing to fund trusts. Funding a trust means changing the ownership of an asset, so the asset is owned by the trust or designating the trust as a beneficiary. When a trust is properly funded, assets funding the trust avoid probate at your death. If your trust includes estate tax planning provisions, the assets are sheltered from estate tax at death. You have to do this before you die. Once you’re gone, the benefits of funding the trust are gone. Work closely with your estate planning attorney to make sure that you follow the instructions to fund trusts.

Poor choices of co-fiduciaries. If your children have never gotten along, don’t expect that to change when you die. Recognize your children’s strengths and weaknesses and be realistic about their ability to work together, when deciding who will make financial decisions under a power of attorney, health care decisions under a health care proxy and who will best be able to settle your estate. If you choose two people who do not get along, or do not trust each other, it will take far longer and cost more to settle your estate. Don’t worry about birth order or egos.

The sixth biggest estate planning mistake people make, is failing to review their estate plan every few years. Estate laws change, tax laws change and lives change. If it’s been a while since your estate plan was reviewed, make an appointment to meet with your estate planning attorney for a review.

If you would like more information on how estate planning can help you protect your assets from incapacity or other threats, contact our Fort Myers law firm to schedule your free consultation.

Reference: Dedham Wicked Local (May 17, 2019) “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’”

 

Why You—and Everyone—Needs an Estate Plan

Why You—and Everyone—Needs an Estate Plan:    At its essence, estate planning is any decision you make concerning your property if you die, or if you become incapacitated. There are a number of things to keep in mind when creating an estate plan, says KTUU in the article “Estate planning dos and don’ts.”

The first task is not what most people think. It’s very basic: making a list of all of your assets and how they are titled. Remember, the estate plan is dealing with the distribution of your assets—so you have to first know what those assets are. If you are old enough to have lived through the sale of several different financial institutions, do you know where your accounts are? Not everyone does!

Next, you need to be clear on how the assets are titled. If they are joint with a spouse, Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD), jointly with a child, or owned by a trust, they may be treated differently in your estate plan, than if you owned them outright.

Roughly fifty percent of all adults don’t make a plan for their estate. That becomes a huge headache for their loved ones. If you don’t have an estate plan, your property will be distributed according to the laws of your state. What you do or don’t want to have happen to your property won’t matter, and in some instances, your family may be passed over for a long-lost sibling. It’s a risk.

In addition, if you don’t have an estate plan, chances are you haven’t done any tax planning. Some states have inheritance taxes, others have estate taxes, and some have both. Even if your estate’s value doesn’t come anywhere close to the very high federal estate tax level ($11.4 million per person for 2019), your heirs could inherit far less, if state and inheritance taxes take a bite out of the assets.

For a blended family, there are a number of rules in different states that divide your assets. In Alaska, for instance, if some of the children of one spouse are not the children of the other spouse, there is a statutory formula that depends on how many children there are and which of them are living. Different percentages of money are awarded to the children, which becomes complicated.

Another reason to have an estate plan has to do with incapacity. This is perhaps harder to discuss than death for some families. Estate planning includes preparing for what the individual would want to happen, if they were injured or too sick to convey their wishes to others. Decisions about health care treatments and end-of-life care are documented with a Living Will (sometimes called an Advanced Care Directive), so your loved ones are not left wondering what you would have wanted and hoping that they got it right.

One last point about an estate plan: be sure to check beneficiary designations while you are doing your estate plan. If you own retirement accounts, life insurance policies, or other assets with named beneficiaries, the assets will pass directly to the named beneficiary, regardless of the instructions in your will. If you opened an IRA when you had one child and have had other children since then, make sure to include all of those children and the proportion of their shares. There may be tax implications, if only one child receives the assets, and there may also be family fights if assets are not distributed equally.

Reference: KTUU (August 14, 2019) “Estate planning dos and don’ts”

 

Where There’s A Will, There’s Not Always An Estate Plan

When I ask retirees if they have an updated estate plan in place, I get a mix of responses. Some people recognize their estate plan is lacking, as millions of Americans either don’t have one or have an outdated plan that doesn’t align with their life anymore. Other people believe they have an updated estate plan, but even this group is mistaken. Their “estate plans” are really just wills.

Wills have been the go-to estate planning documents for generations. They dictate guardianship guidelines and transfer aspects of your property and assets. Wills are an important component of estate planning, however they’re just one piece of it.

In order to control the spending or investing of your assets after death, you need to use a trust (living or Testamentary) or other instrument. If you give your money to someone in your will, including your feelings or best wishes likely won’t have any binding effect on their spending. A trust manages assets after your death and controls the spending patterns of your heirs – a must-have if you’re worried about their spending behavior.

A proper estate plan will need to address items like liquidity for the estate and naming heirs. This requires a thorough review of potential estate costs, income taxes and any potential estate taxes (either federal or state). Factor in your heirs to see if they’ll need cash or income after you pass away. If the estate has a significant liquidity need or heirs have an income need, life insurance could be used as a tax efficient way to pass wealth and liquidity to heirs or the estate.

In addition to liquidity reviews, you also need to review your assets. You need to know where they’re located and who has title to them. Incorrect titling or improper ownership of assets causes huge headaches for estates. Examples of improper ownership include: outright owning all your property and not splitting ownership with your spouse; owning business assets personally; owning assets a trust should. These mistakes can undermine an otherwise well put-together estate plan.

Estate Planning In This Day and Age

Technology nowadays brings new challenges to estate planning. In the past few years, most states have passed a law called the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA). It allows wills, trusts, power of attorney and other documents to provide written instructions about granting access to digital assets to designated fiduciaries.

Under RUFADAA, if proactive planning and language specific to digital asset communications aren’t added into estate planning documents, access could be denied and the assets would be lost forever. If you haven’t updated your estate plan in the last two years, it likely doesn’t incorporate digital assets. An out-of-date plan places families, estates and businesses at risk.

Another aspect of estate planning that’s often overlooked is beneficiary designation planning. While wills, trusts, contracts, and how assets are titled control a lot of the estate planning process, beneficiary designations are extremely important.

The Benefit of Designations

Beneficiary designations transfer retirement accounts, taking precedence over a will or trust. If you don’t update your beneficiary designations or fill them out properly for your life insurance, 401(k) or IRAs, you could be undercutting your estate plan. Review these every few years or after major life events like divorce, marriage, birth of a child or a death of a loved one to make sure they’re still working in relation with your overall estate planning goals.

Here’s an example of why staying on top of beneficiary designations is so critical. If you had a 401(k) and got divorced, your ex-spouse could’ve received a divided lump-sum payout of your account under a qualified domestic relations order. However, if you forgot to remove the ex-spouse from the beneficiary designation on the 401(k) and died years later, they could be entitled to the entire 401(k) – even if you remarried and changed your will.

Too often we focus on the now at the cost of long-term planning and the future. But long-term planning, like estate planning, is crucial to protecting what we have today and taking care of our loved ones for the future.

Out of date estate plans could cause assets to pass to undesirable parties like the government or an unintended beneficiary, or to be taxed at higher rates. Estate plans don’t only involve a will. It needs to include titling of assets, beneficiary designations, valuation of property, liquidity and keeping things updated. Take the time to update your estate plan, because it’s more than just a will – it’s a way.

Forbes 

4 Estate Planning Steps to Protect Assets from a Dementia Diagnosis

It is estimated that 1 in 8 Americans will suffer from some form of dementia after the age of 65; here are 4 estate planning steps that can help protect assets in case you or someone you love becomes incapacitated:

Assemble a team of elder care experts – this can include an elder law and/or estate planning attorney, a financial planner, a CPA, etc.  A team of trusted advisors is essential to help you plan for how your assets will be managed and how decisions will be made about your care in case of
incapacity.

Establish advance directives – advance directives – including a living will, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and medical health care power of attorney – provide for the seamless transfer of decision-making abilities for your care.

Establish a revocable living trust – this will allow your assets to be managed by who you want and how you want without the court getting involved in your affairs.

Have a long-term plan – the time to create a long-term plan is before you need it. People with dementia can live for many years, and the cost to maintain a good quality of life can be a heavy financial burden for a family.   A long-term plan may include funding a long-term care insurance policy, or strategies for spending down assets to qualify for state or federal assistance programs.

If you would like more information on how estate planning can help you protect your assets from incapacity or other threats, contact our Fort Myers law firm to schedule your free consultation. 239-418-0169.

 

Thoughtful Retirement Planning Leaves Wives More Financially Stable

Thoughtful Retirement Planning Leaves Wives More Financially Stable:  Statistics show that typically, wives outlive their husbands by up to a decade.  Sadly, the incidence of poverty for women older than 65 is over 12 percent, considerably more than for men within the same age group.

The key reason is that most of the couples’ financial resources will likely be spent during the last few years of the husband’s life on healthcare costs as well as long-term care.

What do you do?  Here are some ideas:

Ascertain how much you will need to save for retirement in order to produce a dependable life-long income.

The person who has the larger salary history (generally the husband) will be able to maximize their Social Security benefits by not taking them until age 70 or beyond.

Plan for your 401(k) accounts and retirement savings to last until both of you are gone.

Have a good system for dealing with long-term health care expenses.

If one of you has a considerable benefit from a pension plan and you have a choice to elect a joint and survivor annuity, take it — the majority of retired people outlive a lump sum payment.

Attempt to keep in top shape through employing healthy and balanced habits.

Make an effort to retire without having lots of debt – specifically, try to pay off your mortgage loan prior to retirement.

The Dorcey Law Firm, PLC is an Estate Planning, Asset Protection and Business Planning law firm with offices in Fort Myers, Florida and Naples, Florida. Our firm is dedicated to its clients, the rule of law and the betterment of the Southwest Florida community.

It is our drive 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 assistance with Florida retirement planning, please contact us today to schedule your free consultation.