Don’t Ask Heirs to Guess What You Wanted—Have an Estate Plan

Don’t Ask Heirs to Guess What You Wanted—Have an Estate Plan: With an estate plan, you can distribute your assets according to your own wishes. Without one, your heirs may spend years and a good deal of money trying to settle your estate, reports U.S. News & World Report in the article “5 Reasons to Make an Estate Plan.”

If there is no estate plan in place, including a will, living trust, advance directives and other documents, people you love will be put in a position of guessing what you wanted for any number of things, from what your final wishes would be in a medical crisis, to what kind of a funeral would like to have. That guessing can cause strife between family members and worry, for a lifetime, that they didn’t do what you wanted.

Think of your estate plan as a love letter, showing that you care enough about those you love to do right by them.

What is estate planning? Estate planning is the process of legally documenting what you want to happen when you die. It also includes planning for your wishes in case of incapacity, that is, when you are not legally competent to make decisions for yourself because of illness or an injury. This is done through the use of wills, trusts, advance directives and beneficiary designations on accounts and life insurance policies.

Let’s face it, people don’t like to think about their passing, so they postpone making an appointment with an estate planning attorney. There’s also the fear of the unknown: will they have to share a lot of information with the attorney? Will it become complicated? Will they have to make decisions that they are not sure they can make?

Estate planning attorneys are experienced with the issues that come with planning for incapacity and death, and they are able to guide clients through the process.

The power of putting wishes down on paper can provide a great deal of relief to the people who are making the plan and to their family members. Here are five reasons why everyone should have an estate plan:

Avoid Probate. Without a will, the probate court decides how to distribute your estate. In some states, it can take at least seven months to allow creditors to put through claims. The estate is also public, with your information available to the public. Probate can also be expensive.

Minimize Taxes. There are a number of strategies that can be used to minimize taxes being imposed on your heirs. While the federal estate tax exemption is $11.4 million per individual, states have estate taxes and some states impose an inheritance taxes. An estate planning attorney can help you minimize the tax impact of your estate.

Care for Minor Children. Families with minor children need a plan for care, if both parents should pass away. Without a will that names a guardian for young children, the court will appoint a guardian to raise a child. With a will, you can prevent the scenario of relatives squabbling over who should get custody of minor children.

Distributing Assets. If you have a will, you can say who you want to get what assets. If you don’t, the laws of your state will determine who gets what. You can also use trusts to control how and when assets are distributed, in case there are heirs who are unable to manage money.

Plan for Pets. In many states, you can create a Pet Trust and name a trustee to manage the money, while naming someone in your will who will be in charge of caring for your pet. Seniors are often reluctant to get a pet, because they are concerned that they will die before the pet. However, with an estate plan that includes a pet trust, you can protect your pet.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (October 18, 2019) “5 Reasons to Make an Estate Plan” 

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.

 

Special Ownership for Married Couples: Tenancy by the Entirety

Special Ownership for Married Couples: Tenancy by the Entirety: Married couples have a special way to jointly own property in some states that has advantages over regular joint ownership. If you are married and own property jointly, you should make sure you have the right form of ownership.

Joint tenants must have equal ownership interests in the property. If one of the joint tenants dies, his or her interest immediately ceases to exist and the remaining joint tenant owns the entire property. The advantage to joint tenancy is that it avoids having an owner’s interest probated upon his death. The disadvantage is that creditors can attach one tenant’s property to satisfy the other’s debt.

Some states give married couples another option to own property jointly and avoid probate, but also have protection from creditors. Tenancy by the entirety has the same right of survivorship as a joint tenancy, but one spouse cannot sell his or her interest without the other spouse’s permission. The creditors of one spouse cannot attach the property or force its sale to recover debts unless both spouses consent. Creditors may place a lien on property held in tenancy by the entirety, but if the debtor dies before the other spouse, the other spouse takes ownership of the property free and clear of the debt. This is why if you have a tenancy by the entirety, both the husband and wife are required to sign the mortgage on their property for the mortgage to be valid.

Tenancy by the entirety is available in half of all states and the District of Columbia. Some states recognize it for all property; other states only recognize it for real estate. States with tenancy by the entirety are: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.

If you own joint property with a spouse in a state with tenancy by the entirety, you should check to make sure the property is owned as tenants by the entirety. In addition, unmarried couples who buy property and subsequently marry each other should check if they can re-title the deed as tenants by the entirety to avail themselves of the greater protections this form of tenancy offers.

For more information about joint ownership, click here.

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.

What To Do When a Loved One Passes Away

What To Do When a Loved One Passes Away: Whether your spouse has just passed away or you have lost your mom or dad, the emotional trauma of losing a loved one often comes with a bewildering array of financial and legal issues demanding attention. It can be difficult enough for family members to handle the emotional trauma of a death, let alone taking the steps necessary to get these matters in order.

If you are the executor or representative of the will, you first should secure the tangible personal property, meaning anything you can touch such as silverware, dishes, furniture or artwork. Then, take your time while bills need to be paid. They can wait a week or two without any real repercussions. It is more important that you and your family have time to grieve.

When you are ready, you should meet with an attorney to review the steps necessary to administer the will. While the exact rules of estate planning differ from state to state, the key actions include:

  • File the will and petition in probate court in order to be appointed executor.
  • Collect the assets. This means that you need to find out about everything the deceased owned and file a list of inventory with the court.
  • Pay the bills and taxes. If an estate tax return is due, it must be filed within nine months of the date of death.
  • Distribute property to the heirs. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period for creditors to make claims runs out which can be as long as a year.
  • Finally, you must file an account with the court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions.

While some of these steps can be avoided through trusts or joint ownership arrangements, whoever is left in charge still has to pay all debts, file tax returns and distribute the property to the rightful heirs.

For more information about an executor’s duties, click here.

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.

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.”

 

What Does a Probate Attorney Really Do?

What Does a Probate Attorney Really Do?    If you’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one, you may have spent a lot of time and money dealing with their estate and trying to get their assets out of probate.

KAKE.com’s recent article, “Do I Need to Hire a Probate Lawyer?: The Top Signs You Should Lawyer Up” says that trying to do this on your own can often be time-consuming and expensive. That’s why it’s smart to have a probate lawyer working with you.

A probate or estate planning lawyer is one who specializes in issues related to a deceased person’s estate. They have a broad range of responsibilities, which includes the following:

  • Guiding people through the probate process;
  • Advising the beneficiaries of an estate;
  • Representing beneficiaries, if they become involved in lawsuits related to the estate; and
  • Helping with challenges to the validity of the deceased’s will.

If you’re unsure about hiring a lawyer, consider whether you’re dealing with any of these issues in your case:

A Will Contest. This is when another beneficiary challenges the will. If someone contests the will, it will drag out the process and could put you at risk of losing what your loved one wanted for you to have.

Divided Assets. When split assets are part of an estate, things get complicated, especially when you have intangible assets. To avoid trouble, hire a lawyer who can help navigate the division of these assets and make certain that everything is handled in a fair manner.

An Estate Doesn’t Qualify for the Simple Probate Process. Probate can be extremely complicated. Depending on the size of the estate, it may qualify for simpler procedures that are completed relatively quickly. If this isn’t the case for the estate at issue, you should get a probate attorney to help you.

There’s Considerable Debt. If your loved one died with many debts, the estate will need to be used to pay those off. This can be tricky to manage on your own. An experienced attorney will help you make sure everything gets paid off and can negotiate debts to ensure you and the other beneficiaries receive as much from the estate as possible.

There’s Estate Tax Due. While most estates don’t have to pay any federal taxes, some states have their own estate taxes that apply to estates worth $1 million or more. It’s not an easy process, so it’s a good idea to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

There’s a Business in the Estate. You need to ask an attorney to you sort this out, because this will include the process of appraising, managing and selling a business of the deceased owner.

If any of these situations apply to you, hire an attorney with the necessary qualifications to deal with estates and the probate 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: KAKE.com (August 9, 2019) “Do I Need to Hire a Probate Lawyer?: The Top Signs You Should Lawyer Up”

 

Do Your Credit Card Debts Die with You?
Do Your Credit Card Debts Die with You?

Do Your Credit Card Debts Die with You?

Can you imagine what people would do, if they knew that credit card debt ended when they passed away? Run up enormous balances, pay for grandchildren’s college costs and buy luxury cars, even if they couldn’t drive! However, that’s not how it works, says U.S. News & World Report in the article that asks What Happens to Credit Card Debt When You Die?”

The executor of your estate, the person you name in your last will and testament, is in charge of distributing your assts and that includes paying off your debts. If your credit card debt is so big that it depletes your assets, your heirs may be left with little or no inheritance.

If you’re concerned about loved ones being left holding the credit card bag, here are a few things you’ll need to know. Note that some of these steps require the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Who pays for those credit card debts when you’re gone? Relatives don’t usually have to pay for the debts directly, unless they are entwined in your finances. Some examples:

  • Co-signer for a credit card or a loan
  • Jointly own property or a business
  • Lives in a community property state (Alaska, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin
  • Are required by state law to pay a debt, such as health care costs, or to resolve the estate.

A spouse who has a joint credit card account must continue to make on-time payments. A surviving spouse does not need the shock of learning that their spouse was carrying a massive credit card debt, since they are liable for the payments. A kinder approach would be to clear up the debt.

How do debts get paid? The probate process addresses debts, unless you have a living trust or make other arrangements. The probate court will determine the state of your financial affairs, and the executor, one you name or if you die without a valid will, the administrator named by the court, will be responsible for clearing up your estate.

An unmarried person who dies with debt and no assets, is usually a loss for the credit card company, if there’s no source of assets.

If you have assets and they are left unprotected, they may be attached by the creditor. For instance, if there is a life insurance policy, proceeds will go to beneficiaries, before debts are repaid. However, with most other types of assets, the bills get paid first, and then the beneficiaries can be awarded their inheritance.

The first debt that must be paid is secured debt, like the balance of a mortgage or a car loan. The administration and lawyer fees are paid next, and then unsecured debt, including credit cards, are paid.

How can you protect loved ones? A good estate plan that prepares for this situation is the best strategy. Having assets placed in trusts protects them from probate and creditors. A trust also allows beneficiaries to save time and money that might otherwise be devoted to the probate process. It also puts them in a better position, if the executor needs to negotiate with the credit card company.

Talk candidly with your estate planning attorney and your loved ones about your debts, so that a plan can be put into place to protect everyone.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (August 19, 2019) “What Happens to Credit Card Debt When You Die?”

 

Next Steps When the Diagnosis is Alzheimer’s

Next Steps When the Diagnosis is Alzheimer’s: We hope to enjoy out golden years, relaxing after decades of working and raising children. However, as we age, the likelihood of experiencing health issue increase. That includes Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Learning that a loved one has Alzheimer’s or other diseases that require a great deal of health care is devastating to the individual and their families. The progressive nature of these diseases means that while the person doesn’t need intensive health care yet, eventually they will. According to an article from Newsmax, “5 Insurance Steps After Alzheimer’s Strikes Loved One,” the planning for care needs to start immediately.

Alzheimer’s Disease International predicts that 44 million individuals worldwide have Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia, and 25% of those living with it never receive a diagnosis. Healthcare, including assisted living, memory care and in-home care is expensive. Health insurance is an important component of managing the ongoing expenses of living with Alzheimer’s.

Look at your existing policies. There are different types of coverage, depending on the policy type and company. Review current insurance policies to determine if the level of coverage is acceptable and how much will be required to be paid out-of-pocket. See if there’s existing coverage for long-term care, hospital care, doctors’ fees, prescriptions and home health care.

Maintain those policies. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does offer some protections for those diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. They can now access government subsidies to help them purchase health insurance and the Affordable Care Act prohibits pre-existing condition exclusions and cancellation, because the policyholder is considered high cost.

Look into long-term care insurance. This is a way to protect the patient and the family financially, when the day arrives when long-term care is necessary. When diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a person isn’t eligible for long-term care insurance.

In addition to verifying and reviewing insurance coverage, there are some additional tasks that every family should address in the early stages of a diagnosis.

Sign an advance directive. This document allows patients to voice how they want their healthcare and decisions handled, before they are no longer capable of making decisions for themselves. In addition, they should have a living will that states their wishes for medical treatment, a designated power of attorney to can make financial decision, and a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, if that is their wish.

Get estate planning done. Time is of the essence, as the estate plan must be completed while the person still has the mental capacity to understand what they are doing. Three documents are necessary: a last will and testament, a power of attorney so that an agent be named can handle finances and a health care power of attorney for health care decisions. An estate planning attorney will be able to work with the family to make any necessary legal preparations.

Reference: Newsmax (June 28, 2019) “5 Insurance Steps After Alzheimer’s Strikes Loved One”