Have an Estate Plan, for Your Heir’s Sake

Few people want to leave their heirs with a paperwork disaster, but that’s what happens when there’s no estate plan. According to the article “The importance of creating an estate road map for your heirs” from Grand Rapids Business Journal, an estate plan usually involves a will, a durable power of attorney for financial decisions, a health care power of attorney (sometimes known as a designation of patient advocate or a health care proxy) for medical decisions, and often, a trust.

An estate plan also involves making sure assets are titled correctly and beneficiary designations for assets are coordinated with these documents, so assets pass to the people of your choosing in an efficient manner.

It’s always better if this information is gathered together and put in a location that is known to trusted family members.

Another step to consider is leaving a personalized letter of instructions to your spouse or other family members. The letter can be used to explain why you distributed your assets the way you did or guide them on what you’d like them to do with your estate regarding the assets. This is not a legally enforceable document, but it may provide your family members with a level of understanding not otherwise explained in your will.

For most people, retirement accounts, real estate, bank and investment accounts, cars and maybe pensions are the total sum of their estate. If your estate is larger or more complex, i.e., you own a business or a large real estate portfolio, your estate plan may be more complex.

Step-by-step instructions regarding each asset may be helpful for your heirs, including contact information for each asset. They will also find it helpful to have a list of your professional team: your estate planning attorney, financial advisor and accountant.

For certain accounts, instructions may need to be very specific. For a retirement plan, if your spouse survives you, they’ll need to know about rolling the funds into an inherited spousal IRA and naming beneficiaries. Your estate planning attorney can help your surviving spouse avoid any expensive mistakes.

If you own a business, there will be need for more guidance. A succession plan should be set up long in advance of your retirement, so that family members who are active in the business will be able to see it continue, if that is your goal. If the family does not want to run the business, they’ll need to know who to contact to ensure that it maintains its value after your passing, so it can be sold for a healthy profit.

Attorneys and accountants will definitely be able to help your family after your passing, but if you own a business, you know it better than anyone else. Just as you have a business plan for various contingencies, you need to have a plan in the event of your untimely passing. This is lacking for many family-owned businesses, and it often does not end well for the family or the business.

The more detailed the directions you can leave for your family, the better off everyone will be. Having a good estate plan is an act of great kindness to those you love.

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 TrustsEstate 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: Grand Rapids Business Journal (October 31, 2019) “The importance of creating an estate road map for your heirs”

 

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’”

 

Avoiding a Family Feud When Choosing a Power of Attorney
family upset over power of attorney decisions

Avoiding a Family Feud When Choosing a Power of Attorney

The challenge in tasking a family member or trusted friend is not just making sure they have the necessary skills, but to navigate family dynamics so that no fights occur says Considerable.com in the article “How to assign power of attorney without sparking a family feud. Every family situation is different, but in almost all cases, transparency is the best bet.

Start by understanding exactly what is meant by power of attorney, how it functions within the estate plan, and how siblings can all be involved to some degree with the family’s decision-making process.

Power of attorney is a term that gives an individual, or sometimes, individuals, the legal authority to act on behalf of someone else. It is usually used when a person, usually a parent or a spouse, is unable to make decisions for themselves because of illness or injury. It must be noted that power of attorney generally relates to financial and legal decisions. There are methods to address making decisions for another person for their health care or end-of-life decisions, but they are not accomplished by the power of attorney (POA).

It should be noted that there is a distinct difference between power of attorney and executor of the estate. Power of attorney is in effect while the person who has granted the authority is alive.  The executor of the estate assumes responsibility for managing the estate through the probate process. While they are two different roles, they can be held by the same person, usually an adult child who is responsible and has good decision-making skills.

There are different types of power of attorney roles. The most common is the general power of attorney, followed by the health care or medical power of attorney. The general power of attorney refers to the person who has the authority to handle financial, business or private affairs. If a parent grants power of attorney to one of their children, that child then has the authority to act on behalf of the parent.

Trouble starts if the relationship between siblings is rocky, or if major decisions are made without discussions with siblings.

It’s not easy for siblings when one of them has been granted the power of attorney. That means they must accept the inherent authority of the chosen sibling to make all decisions for their parent. The sibling with the power of authority will have a smoother path if they can be sensitive to how this makes the others feel.

“Mom always liked you best,” is not a sentence that should come from a 50 year old, but often childhood dynamics can reappear during these times.

Remember that the power of attorney is also a fiduciary obligation, meaning that the person who holds it is required to act in the best interest of the parent and not their own. If the relationship between siblings is not good, or there’s no transparency when decisions are made, things can get bumpy.

Here are some tips for parents to bear in mind when deciding who should be their power of attorney:

  • Understand the great power that is being given to another person.
  • Make sure the person who is to be named POA understands the entire range of responsibilities they will have.
  • The siblings who have not been named will need to understand and respect the arrangement. They should also be aware of the potential for problems, keeping their eyes open and being watchful without being suspicious.

Some families appoint two siblings as a means of creating a “checks and balances” solution. This can be set up so the agents need to act jointly, where both agree on an action, or independently, where each has the full authority to act alone. In some cases, this will lesson the chances for jealousy and mistrust, but it can also prolong the decision-making process. It also creates the potential for situations where the family is engaged in a deadlock and important decisions don’t get made.

Parents should discuss these appointments with their estate planning attorney. Their years of experience in navigating family issues and dynamics give the attorneys insights that will be helpful with assigning these important tasks.

Reference: Considerable.com (July 10, 2019) “How to assign power of attorney without sparking a family feud”, and edited for Florida relevance 

 

Estate Planning Can Solve Problems Before They Happen

Estate Planning Can Solve Problems Before They Happen:  Creating an estate plan, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, can help people gain clarity on larger issues, like who should inherit the family home, and small details, like what to do with the personal items that none of the children want. Until you go through the process of mapping out a plan, these questions can remain unanswered. However, according the East Idaho Business Journal, “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future.”

Let’s look at some of these questions:

What will happen to my children when I die? You hope that you’ll live a long and happy life, and that you’ll get to see your children grow up and have families of their own. However, what if you don’t? A will is used to name a Guardian to take care of your children, if their parents are not alive. A Guardian is the person who is responsible for the assets/property that any minor children might inherit.

Will my family fight over their inheritance? There is always a possibility that your family will fight over their inheritance. This can happen regardless of if you have a will or not.  However, a properly drafted Estate Plan can drastically lower the chances of this happening.  It is very important that you inform your attorney of the full family dynamic and any concerns you may have about specific family members.  You can also discuss the option of dis-inheriting a family member, if needed or applicable.

Who will take care of my finances, if I’m too sick? Estate planning includes documents like a durable power of attorney, which allows a person you name (before becoming incapacitated) to take charge of your financial affairs. Speak with your estate planning attorney about also having a medical power of attorney. This lets someone else handle health care decisions on your behalf: Further, have a revocable living trust any assets in the Trust will be managed by your successor Trustee should you become incapacitated.

Should I be generous to charities, or leave all my assets to my family? That’s a very personal question. Unless you have significant wealth, chances are you will leave most of your assets to family members. However, giving to charity could be a part of your legacy, whether you are giving a large or small amount. It may give your children a valuable lesson about what should happen to a lifetime of work and saving.

One way of giving, is to establish a charitable lead trust. This provides financial support to a charity (or charities) of choice for a period of time, with the remaining assets eventually going to family members. There is also the charitable remainder trust, which provides a steady stream of income for family members for a certain term of the trust. The remaining assets are then transferred to one or more charitable organizations.

Careful estate planning can help answer many worrisome questions. Just keep in mind that these are complex issues that are best addressed with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: East Idaho Business Journal (June 25, 2019) “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future.”

 

Helping Parents Be Sure Their Families are Protected

Helping Parents Be Sure Their Families are Protected:  Yes, it is old-school, but if your family is on the traditional side, headed up by a breadwinner dad who runs the finances, then you need to make plans to ensure that your family will be okay, if something should happen to you.

This advice also applies to mothers who are the main breadwinners and run their family’s finances, even though the title of this Forbes article is “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected.”

Do you have enough life insurance? Be sure you’re adequately insured, so your family won’t struggle to pay the bills without your income. Many employees only have enough life insurance from work to cover a year’s worth of salary, which may be enough for some families. However, if your spouse can’t make the mortgage payment on their own, and if they would be unwilling or unable to sell the home, you might want to at least make sure you have enough life insurance to pay off the mortgage. Once you know how much you need, buy a low-cost term policy for the maximum length of time you might need the coverage.

Are your beneficiaries updated on retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies? This is an often overlooked issue. An outdated beneficiary designation could result in your ex-spouse inheriting most of your assets, your latest child being disinherited, or your family having to pay higher taxes and probate fees than is necessary.

Can you add a “payable on death” or a “transfer on death” form on any accounts? You can generally add beneficiaries to bank and investment accounts, saving your family from the time and cost of probate. In some states, you can add beneficiaries to your home and vehicles. Ask your bank for a “payable on death” form and your investment company for a “transfer on death” form.

Is your will drafted?  You need a will to name a guardian for your minor children in most states. It’s a good idea to have a qualified estate planning attorney help you.

Are you organized? Keep a record of where everything and everyone is. You can draft an “In Case of Emergency” folder that has copies of your will, revocable trust, life insurance policy and a summary of brokerage and bank accounts. Let your family know where to find it. You should also share your passwords to your digital accounts.

Making sure that your loved ones are protected when you are too sick or die unexpectedly, is a gift to them, and one that will be long remembered. Make some time in your hectic schedule to prepare your family and yourself for the future.

Reference: Forbes (June 16, 2019) “How Fathers Can Make Sure Their Families Are Financially Protected”

 

Planning for the Impact of Medicaid

Planning for the Impact of Medicaid: One of the most complicated and fear-inducing aspects of Medicaid is the financial eligibility. The rules for the cost of long-term care are complicated and can be difficult to understand. This is especially true when the Medicaid applicant is married, as reported in the Delco Times in the article “Medicaid–Protecting Assets for a Spouse.”

While each state is different, the State of Florida mandates that to be eligible for Medicaid long-term care, the applicant may not have more than $2,000 in countable assets in their name, and a gross monthly income of not more than $2,313. That’s the 2019 asset and income limits.

There are Federal laws that mandate certain protections for a spouse, so they do not become impoverished when their spouse enters a nursing home and applies for Medicaid. This is where advance planning with an experienced elder law attorney is needed. The spouse of a Medicaid recipient living in a nursing home, who is referred to as the Community Spouse, is permitted to keep as much as $126,420, known as the “Community Spouse Resource Allowance,” without putting the Medicaid eligibility of the applicant spouse who needs long-term care at risk. The rest of the applicant spouse’s assets must be spent down. The community spouse’s assets will either have to be spent down or “planned for”. A seasoned elder law attorney is essential in this regard.

Countable assets for Medicaid include all belongings. However, there are a few exceptions. These are personal possessions, including jewelry, clothing and furniture, one car, the applicant’s principal residence (if the equity in the home does not exceed $585,500 in 2019) and certain retirement accounts under certain circumstances.

Unless an asset is specifically excluded, it is countable.

There are also Federal rules regarding how much the spouse is permitted to earn. This varies by state. In Florida as of 2019, the community spouse’s income is unlimited.

The rules regarding requests for additional income are also very complicated, so an elder law attorney’s help will be needed to ensure that the spouse’s income aligns with their state’s requirements.

These are complicated matters, and not easily navigated. Talk with an experienced elder law attorney to help plan in advance, if possible. There are many different strategies that can be implemented to help preserve & protect your assets and they are best handled with experienced professional help.

Reference: Delco Times (June 26, 2019) “Medicaid–Protecting Assets for a Spouse” and edited for Florida reference.