Estate Planning Attorney

Estate Planning Documents and Medicaid Planning

The conversation that you have with an estate planning attorney, when you are in your thirties with a new house, young children, and many years ahead of you is different than the one you’ll have when you are much older, maybe just before you retire. The estate planning attorney will know that you are about to enter a time in your life, when the legal documents you prepare are more likely to be used, says the article “Learn about legal documents and Medicaid” from the Houston Chronicle.

The need for long term care increases as we age.

It should be noted that everyone needs an estate plan at any time of life, so they can state their wishes for how assets are distributed and name a person who will speak on their behalf in the event of incapacity because of an illness or injury.

An estate plan also includes a power of attorney, so someone you chose can serve as your agent to transact business and handle your financial matters. There should also be a declaration of guardian, in the event of later incapacity and a HIPAA medical authorization document. In some instances, a designation of remains is prepared in order to name an individual who will be the appointed agent to care for the body at the time of death.

However, there’s another reason why you’ll need to meet with an attorney at this time. As we get older, the need to address long term care becomes more important. Making the right decisions now, could have a big impact on the quality of your retirement and your later in life medical care.

If you have not updated your will or your powers of attorney, specifically a durable power of attorney for property, it would be wise to do so now. You will need a document to clearly authorize your agent to deal with assets. Any documents that are out of date, or in which named agents have predeceased you, won’t be effective, leading to problems for you and your heirs.

The document may also need to include a broad gifting power for your named agent, so assets can be transferred out of the estate. If this detail is overlooked, the agent may not be able to protect your assets.

This is the time when you may want to take steps to protect your children upon your death or upon the death of the second parent. If your goal is to eliminate assets to be eligible for Medicaid coverage, this planning needs to be done well in advance. In numerous states, there are state administered programs that pursue recovery of assets when a person has received Medicaid benefits.

Your attorney will be able to work with you and your family to address your specific situation. It may be that your estate plan will include trusts, or that certain assets need to be retitled. Meet with an estate planning attorney who is familiar with your state’s laws. And don’t procrastinate.

Reference: The Houston Chronicle (April 19, 2019) “Learn about legal documents and Medicaid”

Property Transfers and Gift Taxes: Estate Planning Basics

As we age, our needs change. That includes our needs for the property that we own. For one person, the family home was rented to the daughter and her spouse as a “rent-to-own” property. This is generous, since it gives the daughter an opportunity to build equity in a home. The parent had questions about what kind of a deed would be needed for this transaction, and if any gift taxes need to be paid on the gift of the house and a separate parcel of land. The answers to these estate planning basics are presented in the article “Dealing with property transfers and gift taxes” from Chicago Tribune.

Estate Planning Basics
Property transfers and gift taxes are basic components of estate planning that everyone should consider.

For starters, there are tax advantages while the person is living, since the home is an investment for the owner, as described above. On the day that the home is deeded over to the daughter, she will own the home at the cost basis of the parent. Here is why. The IRS defines the “cost basis” of a real estate property as the price that the owner paid for it, plus the cost of purchase and any fees associated with the sale plus the cost of any new materials or structural improvements.

When you give someone a home, they receive it at the price that was paid for it plus these costs.

Let’s say this person paid $50,000 for the family home, and it’s now worth $100,000. If you give the home to a family member, it’s as if she paid $50,000 for it, not $100,000. There may be tax consequences when she goes to sell it, but that’s in the distant future.

It’s different if the home is inherited. In that case, if the house was valued at $100,000 on the date that the owner died, the heir’s cost basis would be $100,000. However, if the heir sold the property on the exact same day (this is an unlikely scenario), there would be no tax owed on the sale for the heir.

This is a very simplified explanation of how a home can be passed from one generation to the next. It would be best to speak with a good estate attorney, who can evaluate all the factors, since every situation is different. One simple suggestion might be to put the property into a living trust, in which case the daughter will still pay rent to the parent, but then would inherit the property when the parent died.

The estate planning attorney could use the same living trust for the separate parcel of land. Once the home and the land are deeded into the living trust, the owner can state her wishes for how the properties are to be used.

As for the basic estate planning question of gift taxes, anyone can give anyone else $15,000 per year, with no need to file any forms with the IRS or pay any taxes. If you give someone more than $15,000 in one year, the IRS requires a gift tax form with the federal income tax return.

A meeting with an estate planning attorney is the best way to ensure that the transfer of a family home to a family member is handled correctly and that there are no surprises.

Reference: Chicago Tribune (April 23, 2019) “Dealing with property transfers and gift taxes”

What is an Advance Directive and Do I Need One?

These are difficult questions to think about. However, as every estate planning attorney knows, the questions “What is an Advance Directive?” and “Do I need one?” are very important. Should you ever become unable to speak for yourself, reports the Enid News & Eagle in the article “Veteran Connection: What you should know about advance directives,” there is a way to make a plan, so your wishes are known to others and by legally conveying them in advance, making sure you have a say, even when you don’t have a voice.

Everyone needs Advance Directives
Everyone over the age of 18 should have an Advance Directive so family and doctors know your wishes.

The advance directive helps family members and your doctors understand your wishes about medical care. The wishes you express through these two documents described below, require reflection on values, beliefs, views on medical treatments, quality of life during intense medical care and may even touch on spiritual beliefs.

The goal is to prepare so your wishes are followed, when you are no longer able to express them. This can include situations like end-of-life care, the use of a respirator to breathe for you, or who you want to be in the room with you, when you are near death.

It should be noted that an advance directive also includes a mental health component, that extends to making decisions on your behalf when there are mental health issues, not just physical issues.

There are two types of documents: a durable power of attorney for health care and a living will.

The durable power of attorney for health care lets you name a person you trust to make health care decisions when you cannot make them for yourself. This person is called your health care agent or surrogate and will have the legal right to make these decisions. If you don’t have this in place, your doctor will decide who should speak for you. They may rely on order of relationships: a legal guardian, spouse, adult child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or a close friend.

A living will is the document that communicates what kind of end of life health care you want, if you become ill and cannot communicate with your doctors. This helps your named person and your doctor make decisions about your care that align with your own wishes.

Another very important part of this issue: the conversation with the people who you want to be on hand when these decisions have to be made. Are they willing to serve in this capacity? Can they make the hard decisions, especially if it’s what you wanted and not what they would want? Do you want a spouse to make these decisions on your behalf? Many people do that, but you may have a trusted family member or friend you would prefer, if you feel that your spouse will be too overwhelmed to follow your wishes.

For additional information about Advance Directives and estate planning, download our free books and reports.

Reference: Enid News & Eagle (March 13, 2019) “Veteran Connection: What you should know about advance directives”

Smart Women Protect Themselves with Estate Planning

The reason to have an estate plan is two-fold: to protect yourself, while you are living and to protect those you love, after you have passed. If you have an estate plan, says the Boca Newspaper in the article titled “Smart Tips for Women: Estate Planning,” your wishes for the distribution of your assets are more likely to be carried out, tax liabilities can be minimized and your loved ones will not be faced with an extended and expensive process of settling your estate.

Smart Women have Estate Plans
Smart women protect themselves and their families by making sure they have an estate plan in place.

Here are some action items every woman should consider when putting your estate plan in place:

If you have an estate plan but aren’t really sure what’s in it, it’s time to get those questions answered. Make sure that you understand everything. Don’t be intimidated by the legal language: ask questions and keep asking until you fully understand the documents.

If you have not reviewed your estate plan in three or four years, it’s time for a review. There have been new tax laws that may have changed the outcomes from your estate plan. Anytime there is a big change in the law or in your life, it’s time for a review. Triggering events include births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, purchases of a home or a business or a major change in financial status, good or bad.

If you don’t have an estate plan, stop postponing and make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, as soon as possible.

Your estate plan should include advance directives, including a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate (and HIPAA Release), and a Living Will. You may not be capable of executing these documents during a health emergency and having them in place will make it possible for those you name to make decisions on your behalf.

Anyone who is over the age of 18, needs to have these same documents in place. Parents do not have a legal right to make any decisions or obtain medical information about their children, or even review their healthcare documents, once they celebrate their 18th birthday.

Make a list of your trusted professionals: your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor, your insurance agent and anyone else your executor will need to contact.

Tell your family where this list is located. Don’t ask them to go on a scavenger hunt, while they are grieving your loss.

List all your assets. You don’t have to include every single item you own, but you large and expensive items, as well as family heirlooms and those items with sentimental value.  You should include where they are located, account numbers, contact phone numbers, etc. Tell your family that this list exists and where to find it.

If you have assets with primary beneficiaries, make sure that they also have contingent beneficiaries.

If you have assets from a first marriage and remarry, be smart and have a prenuptial agreement drafted that aligns with a new estate plan.

If you have children and assets from a first marriage and want to make sure that they continue to be your heirs, work with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to make this happen. You may need a will, or you may simply need to have your children become the primary beneficiaries on certain accounts. A trust may be needed. Your estate planning attorney will know the best strategy for your situation.

If you own a business, make sure you have a plan for what will happen to that business, if you become incapacitated or die unexpectedly. Who will run the business, who will own it and should it be sold? Consider what you’d like to happen for long-standing employees and clients.

Smart women make plans for themselves and their loved ones. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you navigate through an estate plan. Remember that an estate plan needs upkeep on a regular basis.

Reference: Boca Newspaper (March 4, 2019) “Smart Tips for Women: Estate Planning”

Be Careful Granting Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney abuse has emerged as a serious problem for elderly people who are vulnerable to people they trust more than they should, reports the Sandusky Register in the article “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney” The same is true for a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care document, which should be of great concern for seniors and their family members.

Care should be taken when choosing an agent to act in your behalf

This illustrates the importance of a Power of Attorney document: the person, also known as the “principal,” is giving the authority to act on their behalf in all financial and personal affairs to another person, known as their “agent.” That means the agent is empowered to do anything and everything the person themselves would do, from making withdrawals from a bank account, to selling a home or a car or more mundane acts, such as paying bills and filing taxes.

The problem is that there is nothing to stop someone, once they have Power of Attorney, from taking advantage of the situation. No one is watching out for the person’s best interests, to make sure bank accounts aren’t drained or assets sold. The agent can abuse that financial power to the detriment of the senior and to benefit the agent themselves. It is a crime when it happens. However, this is what often occurs: seniors are so embarrassed that they gave this power to someone they thought they could trust, that they are reluctant to report the crime.

Similarly, an unchecked Health Care Power of Attorney can lead to abuse, if the wrong person is named.

The following is a real example of how this can go wrong. An adult child arranged for their trusting parent to be diagnosed as suffering from dementia by an unscrupulous psychiatrist, when the parent did not have dementia.

The adult child then had the parent admitted into a nursing home, misrepresenting the admission as a temporary stay for rehabilitation. They then kept the parent in the nursing home, using the dementia diagnosis as a reason for her to remain in the nursing home.

The parent had to hire an attorney and prove to the court that she was competent and able to live independently, to be able to return to her home.

Meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your situation and figure out who might become named as Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of attorney on your behalf. The attorney will be able to help you make sure that your estate plan, including your will, is properly prepared and discuss with you the best options for these important decisions.

Reference: Sandusky Register (Feb. 5, 2019) “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney”

Suggested Key Terms: Power of Attorney, Health Care, Principal, Agent, Elder Abuse, Estate Planning Attorney,

Do-It-Yourself Will Leads to Disaster

This is a cautionary tale of what can happen when people create a do-it-yourself will without the help of an estate planning attorney. As Ms. Cockrum told News 2 in the article “The power of a will and trouble without one,” she’s going from court procedure to court procedure, and feels overwhelmed. The entire issue would have been prevented with a properly prepared will.

Work with an estate planning attorney to avoid the many pit-falls of the do-it-yourself will

Without a valid will, a judge must determine how to divide assets in an estate. In this case, the biggest issue concerns the family home. The mortgage for the home is in her late husband’s name, even though they bought the house and maintained it together.

Here’s the problem: his children from a previous marriage are legally entitled to half of his assets.

Without a will, battles among family members are common. One purpose of the will is to name an executor (also known as the personal representative) who takes charge of distributing assets, including selling a home, paying off any debts and making sure that final wishes are carried out, as the decedent wanted. Without an executor, the first battle is over who will be in charge. That can take months and delay any resolution to the estate.

If there are minor children and no will, the opportunity to determine who will take care of the children is left to the court. Someone who does not know the family will make a decision to appoint the person who becomes their guardian. It may be someone you would not have wanted to raise your kids.

The will also outlines who gets what possessions from the estate. Family heirlooms and artifacts, like china, jewelry, collections and all kinds of items hold emotional and financial value. Fighting over who gets what, happens often when there’s no will. That takes time to resolve.

Without an estate plan to help manage tax liabilities, there may be taxes that could have been minimized. The cost of attorney’s fees to settle an estate without a will is typically going to be much higher than working with an attorney in the first place to create a will and other important documents.

Another surprise that families run into when there’s no will is that people think the surviving spouse inherits everything. However, this is not always true. Without a will, the state law determines what happens to the estate’s assets. Depending on the state, your spouse may get 50% and your kids may get 50%, or the surviving spouse might get everything. In other states, the surviving spouse receives a third.

The simplest way to avoid the troubles associated with a do-it-yourself will is to make an appointment with an experienced estate planning attorney and have an estate plan created that will protect your surviving spouse and your family. The attorney will also help you prepare for incapacity, with a power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney. This is not a do-it-yourself task.

For information about working with Mastry Law to insure your will transfers your assets how you want, visit our website and request a consultation.

Reference: News 2 (Jan. 29, 2019) “The power of a will and trouble without one”

What Do I Need to Do To Get Financially Fit in My 30s?

Whether you’re 30 or 39, retirement will come up faster than you think. Many people are surprised when they see how much they need to put away to keep their current standard of living in retirement.

Once you decide when you want to retire, you need to calculate how much money you’ll need and how you’ll get there. Of course, you should take advantage of company matching and various tax deductions, when saving for retirement. But, don’t wait until your 40s or 50s to try to catch up. That will be painful, or worse, impossible.

Forbes’s recent article, “3 Steps To Financial Fitness In Your Thirties,” advises that when you start to accumulate wealth, be sure someone is watching your investments and that those investments are suitable for your time frames and financial goals.

Working with a fiduciary advisor can help improve your situation. This should be someone you trust, and most important of all, who you feel has your best interests at heart.

If you are accumulating assets, make sure they’re protected. Be certain you and your family are covered by having the correct insurance policies. Of course, in a perfect world nothing would happen. For instance, most people on disability would much rather be healthy. They’d love to be able to joke and say that having that disability insurance was a “bad investment”. However, those who are disabled and aren’t covered with a disability insurance policy, most likely wish they’d made sure they had this income protection in place.

Another form of protection is an emergency fund. If you don’t have one, start by regularly putting some amount of money into a non-retirement account. Even if it’s a small amount, something is better than nothing. If you were to be laid off, chances are that your unemployment benefits would not be enough to pay the rent or make a mortgage payment.

If you’re single, you should protect yourself—even more so than someone who has a partner to rely on. Many life insurance policies have living benefits that can protect you, if an emergency happens.  You may also be able to use cash value life insurance to partially fund your retirement.

Finally, it’s critical that you think about estate planning. You should have an estate plan, including a will, Powers of Attorney, health care power of attorney and, if you have minor children, a guardian should be named in your will.

Let’s say you’re living with someone. If something happens to either of you, the living partner will most likely be treated as a roommate—and have no legal rights to your property. An estate plan can be prepared to provide your partner with legal protection.

Reference: Forbes (December 17, 2018) “3 Steps To Financial Fitness In Your Thirties”

Here’s a Happy Way to Start the New Year – A Gift of Estate Planning

If you think of estate planning as a gift to your loved ones, and not an obligation, then you will understand why the start of a new year is the perfect time to give your family the peace of mind that an estate plan can bring. The article “Give the gift of estate planning to loved ones this holiday season” from the Brainerd Dispatch describes how stress and guilt for the family can be alleviated just by having a good estate plan in place.

Your estate plan will provide your family with clear directions on where you want your assets to go when you have passed, but that’s just for starters. They will be dealing with many moving parts when you pass: funeral arrangements, notifying family members and grief, which can be overwhelming.

If you don’t have a will or haven’t done any planning, the process for your family to gain access to your assets becomes extremely problematic. The process is called probate, and it can take months and cost a great deal to unlock real estate ownership, account information or other assets for your spouse, children and grandchildren.

There’s also no way to ensure that your assets will be distributed as you wanted, if you do not have a will or an estate plan. Let’s say you have a non-traditional family. You’ve lived with your partner for decades, even raised children together, but never married. Your partner and your children may find themselves completely without any voice in your estate, and no right to any assets. Without a will, the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets, and that may be a sibling or a parent, if still living.

Your estate plan becomes your legacy, and it’s not just for family members. If there are causes or organizations that have meaning for you, they can be included in your estate plan. Lifetime giving or giving “with warm hands” is rewarding, because you get to see the impact of your generosity. However, you can use an estate plan to make a gift to an organization, which serves a dual purpose. It decreases the value of your estate, and can lessen the tax burden of your estate, giving your family more money.

There are many ways to make planned giving part of your estate. Donor advised funds are increasingly popular, or you may want to use a charitable trust or fund a scholarship. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you determine the best way to structure your giving.

An experienced estate planning attorney has worked with families of all different types and will have the knowledge and skills to help you create an estate plan that works best for your family. The attorney will also encourage you to talk with your family members to make sure they know that you have put a plan into place. You may wish to have a family meeting with your estate planning attorney, to ensure that everyone understands why you made the decisions you did and ensure that the family understands that your estate plan is a gift from the heart.

Reference: Brainerd Dispatch (Dec. 8, 2018) “Give the gift of estate planning to loved ones this holiday season”

Awareness and Communication Can Help Head Off Elder Abuse

It’s great that overall our life expectancies have increased, but with longer lives, comes a greater risk of bad choices and financial elder abuse. There are steps you can take to protect those you love.

As we age, so does our brain. Even high functioning retirees, who have no outward signs of dementia, find it more challenging to distinguish between safe and risky investments, according to recent studies. The numbers say it all: only 7% of seniors over 60 have dementia, but nearly a third of those who are 85 years old or older have dementia.

MP900407501If you’re a senior or you have one in your life, it’s critical to know how to prevent abuse. The Kansas City Star provides some helpful ways to prevent abuse in its recent article, “Five ways to avoid elder financial abuse.”

Communication. Speak with your elderly loved ones on a regular basis to check in on their health and their activities. Remind them to maintain safe practices, like shredding receipts and account statements. You should also remind them to be cautious about opening unknown emails and that they should never give out their Social Security number or banking information online or on the phone. Keep open communication, so you can see if they’re showing any signs of confusion or mental decline.

Stay attentive. Know how your loved ones are spending time and their money. If they hire outside help, try to be involved in the hiring process and try to know their health care aides. In addition, take a look at their monthly or quarterly statements to identify any unusual, frequent, or large payments. If your loved one is showing signs of decline, ask if you can pay bills for them, so you’ll know what’s going on.

Create a system of checks and balances. Make sure that your senior has the proper estate planning documents in place that will let trusted family members help them as needed. If you have siblings or other family members, divide responsibilities and then swap responsibilities every few months.

Build professional relationships. Ask your senior to let you come to meetings with them, when visiting advisers, like their estate planning attorney.

Streamline accounts. Conduct an inventory of their financial documents. This includes their life insurance and long-term care policies, bank accounts and investment accounts. Try to make your loved one’s finances more manageable and consolidate their accounts where possible, which will make it easier to spot any unusual withdrawals or transactions.

If, despite all of your efforts, financial fraud or elder abuse takes place in your family, reach out to law enforcement in your area and talk with an elder law attorney. You can protect your loved one (or yourself) after the fact.

Reference:The Kansas City Star (September 8, 2018) “Five ways to avoid elder financial abuse”

How Does Rolling a 401(k) into an IRA Fit into My Retirement Plan?

Whether or not to roll a 401(k) into an IRA when you are changing jobs or retiring early, does not have a simple yes/no answer. There are a number of factors to consider.

If your retirement plan includes retiring before you reach age 59 ½, you may not want to move your 401(k) into an IRA at all. It may be better to move it into your current employer’s 401(k) plan. Moving those funds into an IRA, may limit your withdrawal options in retirement, says Forbes in the article, “Should I Roll My Old 401(k) To An IRA If I Want To Retire Early?”

MP900409252There’s a 10% penalty to withdraw funds from your traditional IRA before 59½, unless you qualify for an exception. However, many people don't know that the IRS lets employees who retire or otherwise leave a company at age 55 or older, to withdraw from their employer's plan without a penalty. Therefore, if you retire at age 55 and roll over your 401(k) to an IRA, you'll have to wait 4½years longer to withdraw your funds without a penalty.

At any age, there will be income taxes to pay on withdrawals. If you have a traditional 401(k), you got a tax break when you invested. Your funds then grew tax-deferred all those years. The IRS now wants to tax your money. When you withdraw from your traditional 401(k), your funds will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates.

There are also some side benefits to staying with a 401(k), instead of opening up a rollover IRA. First, it simplifies your investments. If you roll your 401(k) to your current firm when you switch jobs, you know exactly what your funds are invested in and can check the balance all in one place. It could also protect you from legal judgments. Keeping retirement funds in a company plan, instead of an IRA, will keep it safe.

You should discuss your asset protection strategy with your estate planning attorney.

Remember, not everyone qualifies to invest in a Roth. However, it is possible to contribute to a Roth IRA in a roundabout way, called a "backdoor” Roth IRA. It is complicated and you will need to talk to your tax advisor. Basically, you can open a non-deductible IRA and contribute to it, up to the maximum of $5,500 (or $6,500 if you are over age 50), then immediately convert it to a Roth IRA. Because you haven’t earned any interest, you don’t have any taxes to pay on the conversion.  Now you have a Roth IRA!

However, if you own any other traditional IRAs, you may have to pay pro-rata taxes on the conversion. If you want to try a backdoor Roth IRA, transferring your old 401(k) to your new employer’s plan may be the best way to go.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that you don’t run afoul of any IRS rules on retirement accounts, if you intend to retire early. Making an expensive mistake could undo your early retirement.

Reference: Forbes (August 31, 2018)“Should I Roll My Old 401(k) To An IRA If I Want To Retire Early?”

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