Healthcare Directive

Why Is a Revocable Trust So Valuable in Estate Planning?

There’s quite a bit that a revocable trust can do to solve big estate planning problems for many families.

As Forbes explains in its recent article, “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning,” trusts are a critical component of a proper estate plan. There are three parties to a trust: the owner of some property (settler or grantor) turns it over to a trusted person or organization (trustee) under a trust arrangement to hold and manage for the benefit of someone (the beneficiary). A written trust document will spell out the terms of the arrangement.

One of the most useful trusts is a revocable trust (inter vivos) where the grantor creates a trust, funds it, manages it by herself, and has unrestricted rights to the trust assets (corpus). The grantor has the right at any point to revoke the trust, by simply tearing up the document and reclaiming the assets, or perhaps modifying the trust to accomplish other estate planning goals.

Revocable Trust
A Revocable Trust is one of the most useful estate planning tools

After discussing trusts with your attorney, he or she will draft the trust document and re-title property to the trust. The grantor has unrestricted rights to the property and assets transferred to a revocable trust and can be reclaimed at any time. During the life of the grantor, the trust provides protection and management, if and when it’s needed.

Let’s examine the potential lifetime and estate planning benefits that can be incorporated into the trust:

  • Lifetime Benefits. If the grantor is unable or uninterested in managing the trust, the grantor can hire an investment advisor to manage the account in one of the major discount brokerages, or he can appoint a trust company to act for him.
  • Incapacity. A trusted spouse, child, or friend can be named to care for and represent the needs of the grantor/beneficiary. They will manage the assets during incapacity, without having to declare the grantor incompetent and petitioning for a guardianship. After the grantor has recovered, she can resume the duties as trustee.
  • Guardianship. This can be a stressful legal proceeding that makes the grantor a ward of the state. This proceeding can be expensive, public, humiliating, restrictive and burdensome. However, a well-drafted trust (along with powers of attorney) avoids this.

The revocable trust is a great tool for estate planning because it bypasses probate, which can mean considerably less expense, stress and time.

In addition to a trust, ask your attorney about the rest of your estate plan: a will, powers of attorney, medical directives and other considerations.

Any trust should be created by a very competent trust attorney, after a discussion about what you want to accomplish.

Reference: Forbes (February 20, 2019) “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning”

Estate Planning for a Blended Family?

A blended family (or stepfamily) can be thought of as the result of two or more people forming a life together (married or not) that includes children from one or both of their previous relationships, says The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a recent article, “You’re in love again, but consider the legal and financial issues before it’s too late.”

Research from the Pew Research Center study shows a high remarriage rate for those 55 and older—67% between the ages 55 and 64 remarry. Some of the high remarriage percentage may be due to increasing life expectancies or the death of a spouse. In addition, divorces are increasing for older people who may have decided that, with the children grown, they want to go their separate ways.

elderly couple ARAG members
Getting married for the second time? Don’t forget to review your estate planning documents.

It’s important to note that although 50% of first marriages end in divorce, that number jumps to 67% of second marriages and 80% of third marriages end in divorce.

So if you’re remarrying, you should think about starting out with a prenuptial agreement. This type of agreement is made between two people prior to marriage. It sets out rights to property and support, in case there’s a divorce or death. Both parties must reveal their finances. This is really helpful, when each may have different income sources, assets and expenses.

You should discuss whose name will be on the deed to your home, which is often the asset with the most value, as well as the beneficiary designations of your life insurance policies, 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts.

It is also important to review the agents under your health care directives and financial powers of attorney. Ask yourself if you truly want your stepchildren in any of these agent roles, which may include “pulling the plug” or ending life support.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about these important estate planning documents that you’ll need, when you say “I do” for the second (or third) time.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (February 24, 2019) “You’re in love again, but consider the legal and financial issues before it’s too late”

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,

What Parents of Minor Children Need to Know About Writing a Will?

Who wants to think about their own mortality? No one. However, it’s a fact of life. Failing to plan for your eventual passing by preparing a will — especially for parents of minor children — can result in issues for your loved ones. If you die without a will, it can mean conflict among your survivors, as they attempt to see how best to divide up your assets.

Naming a guardian is the most important thing you can do

Fatherly’s recent article, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know” says that families can battle over big assets like cars to small assets like a collection of supposedly rare books. They can fight over anything and everything. So, remember to prepare and sign a last will and testament to dispose of your property the way you want.

Dying without a will means your estate will be disposed of according to the intestacy laws in your state. That could leave your loved ones in the lurch that you may have wanted to provide for. For instance, in some states, your spouse may only get half your estate, with the remainder going to your children.

Writing a will is essential, and you should not try to do it yourself. Instead, hire an experienced estate planning lawyer. Along with this, keep these items in mind.

Plan for Every Scenario. When doing your estate planning, consider the various scenarios and contingencies that can happen after you’re gone. A well prepared will includes when and where you want your assets to go. Be wise in how to distribute your assets, to whom they will be going and the timing.

Family Dynamics. You must be very specific when drafting up a will, especially if family circumstances are unique, such when there are children from previous marriages who aren’t legally adopted by a spouse. They could be disinherited. Work with an attorney to make sure they receive what you intend with specific details. If you and your partner aren’t legally married, your significant other could find himself or herself disinherited from your assets after you’re dead.

Designating Your Children’s Guardian. Naming a guardian is the single most important thing that parents of minor children can do.  If you don’t name a guardian for your children (in cases of either single parenthood or where both parents pass away), the state will determine who will raise your children.

Specificity. Your will is a chance to say who gets what. If you want your brother to get the baseball card collection, you should write it down in your will or it’s not enforceable. In some states, including Florida, you can attach a written list of these personal items to your will.

Health Care. Begin planning your will when you’re healthy so that, in the event of disaster, you will have a financial power of attorney and a health care agent in place. If you become too ill to make decisions yourself, you’ll need to appoint someone to make those decisions for you.

Rules for Parents of Minors. Minors can own property, but they’ll have no control over it until they turn 18. If parents leave their home to their minor child, the surviving spouse will have issues if they want to sell it. Likewise, if a child is named the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, IRA, or 401(k), those assets will go into a protected account.

Don’t Do It Yourself. This cannot be over-emphasized. It’s tempting to create a will from a generic form online. But this may be a recipe for disaster. If your will is drafted poorly, your family will suffer the consequences. Generic forms found online are just that—generic. Families are not generic. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you address your unique family needs.

Visit the Mastry Law website for a free copy of our report A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Children Through Estate Planning.

Reference: Fatherly (February 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

Why Is Everyone Retiring to Florida?

A recent report by WalletHub ranks Florida as the best place to retire in terms of affordability, health-related factors and overall quality of life. According to the U.S. Census’ 2017 Population Estimates Program, roughly a half-million Miami-Dade County residents are over the age of 65, and by 2040, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65, according to the annual report produced by the Administration for Community Living.

It is no surprise to us that people would want to retire in Florida.

Advances in medicine are helping with longevity, but various improvements in diet and lifestyle have also helped, says The Miami Herald in the article “Plan now on ways to take care of yourself through a long retirement.”

It’s important to keep your lifestyle through retirement, and it’s an essential part of any financial plan. You’ll need to budget for plans or services that help you in your later years, such as everyday tasks, medical care, or even where you live.

Take some time to consider how you want your later years to look, like where you would want to live—whether that’s at home (possibly with live-in help) or in an assisted-living facility. With our longer life spans, we encounter more significant health risks, like cognitive issues. According to research, 37% of people over the age of 85 have some mild impairment and about one-third have dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association says that 540,000 people aged 65 and older reported living with Alzheimer’s in Florida in 2018. Roughly 15% of those in Florida hospice care had a diagnosis of dementia in 2015. Therefore, you can see why it is critical to think about this now and communicate your long-term needs to your family.

As we get older, the ability to maintain a lifestyle we like, can become a financial challenge. This is especially true, if we also face an unexpected health condition. Making wise decisions now, can have a dramatic impact on what those later years will look like. Saving for a lengthy retirement can help you prepare to face any potential issues that may arise.

Making provisions for your family and leaving a legacy, isn’t always an easy task. However, the financial security of your family may depend not only on how you manage your wealth today, but also on how you protect and preserve it for the future. Your estate plan can help you prepare now to provide for your loved ones in the future.

Talk to your family and your estate planning attorney about these issues and ensure that your legacy planning is up to date, by regularly updating your will, trust, or advanced medical directives.

Reference: Miami Herald (February 1, 2019) “Plan now on ways to take care of yourself through a long retirement”

Why Do I Need Estate Planning If I’m Not Rich?

Most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do thinking about who will inherit their assets after they pass away. Although estate planning isn’t the most enjoyable activity, without it, you don’t get to direct who gets the things you’ve worked so hard for after you pass away.

Estate Planning isn't only for the rich
An Estate Plan will protect your assets and your loved ones

Investopedia asks you to consider these four reasons why you should have an estate plan to avoid potentially devastating results for your heirs in its article “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important.”

Wealth Won’t Go to Unintended Beneficiaries. Estate planning may have been once considered something only rich people needed, but that’s changed. Everyone now needs to plan for when something happens to a family’s breadwinner(s). The primary part of estate planning is naming heirs for your assets and a guardian for your minor children. Without an estate plan, the courts will decide who will receive your property and raise your kids.

Protection for Families With Young Children. If you are the parent of small children, you need to have a will to ensure that your children are taken care of. You can designate their guardians, if both parents die before the children turn 18. Without a will with a guardianship clause, a judge will decide this important issue, and the results may not be what you would have wanted.

Avoid Taxes. Estate planning is also about protecting your loved ones from the IRS. Estate planning is transferring assets to your family, with an attempt to create the smallest tax burden for them as possible. A little estate planning can reduce much or even all of their federal and state estate taxes or state inheritance taxes. There are also ways to reduce the income tax that beneficiaries might have to pay. However, without an estate plan, the amount your heirs will owe the government could be substantial.

No Family Fighting (or Very Little). One sibling may believe he or she deserves more than another. This type of fighting happens all the time, and it can turn ugly and end up in court, pitting family members against each other. However, an estate plan enables you to choose who controls your finances and assets, if you’re unable to manage your own assets or after you die. It also will go a long way towards settling any family conflict and ensuring that your assets are handled in the way you wanted.

To protect your assets and your loved ones when you no longer can do it, you’ll need an estate plan. Without one, your family could see large tax burdens, and the courts could say how your assets are divided, or even who will care for your children.

Reference: Investopedia (May 25, 2018) “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important”

Here’s More Insight into Why Estate Planning is Critical

Fox 5 NY says in the article “Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth” that this is great time to begin talking to your loved ones about estate planning, especially older relatives and parents.

The key to a successful discussion depends upon the right approach.

Try to always make suggestions, rather than demands. One great way to start the conversation with family members, is to mention what you’re doing. You might say something like, “I just took care of my own estate planning. Have you done anything? Maybe we should talk about it.” That might get the conversation rolling.

Many people believe that, as they get older, they need a will. However, that’s just one piece of the puzzle: core estate planning includes a will, power of attorney, health care surrogate and asset protection.

For most of us, the asset we most want to protect is our home. One of the best ways to do that is through a trust. Depending upon the type of trust you use, it may also have tax advantages, could protect your home during a healthcare crisis and protect your home from your children’s creditors.

You also need to find people you trust to help with finances and health care. A power of attorney is a legal document in which you grant a person the authority to handle finances on your behalf.

Similarly, a healthcare surrogate is an individual who makes healthcare decisions, if you get sick or are in an accident and can’t make decisions for yourself.

You can use one person to do both or separate individuals for each role. You can opt for a family member or a trusted friend. However, either way it should probably be a younger person, who won’t be dealing with the same aging issues as you.

You should also note that your will doesn’t cover everything. Make certain that any beneficiaries designated in your retirement plans or life insurance and any additional names on joint bank accounts are current. The beneficiaries you appointed by a designation form will get the money in those accounts, no matter what it says in your will.

If all of this sounds a bit complex, don’t worry because an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney can help you with all of the forms and all of your questions. Just understand these three things before you visit an elder law firm: your assets, whose names are on the accounts and your wishes.

Reference: Fox 5 NY (December 12, 2018) “Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth”

Are You or Will You Become a “Solo Ager”?

“Solo agers face unique challenges, as their needs begin to change.”

Did you know that a study from the Pew Research Center says about 20% of the 75 million baby boomers don’t have children—a figure that’s double what it was in the 1970s and one that’s expected to keep rising.

MP900427632We mention this because these people need someone to count on to always be there, if they need help making decisions and managing their affairs as they get older.

NH Magazine’s recent article entitled “The Difficulties That Come With Solo Aging” says that, for those without children or parents who’re estranged from them, it’s frequently a tough question to answer.

Our country’s 15 million “solo agers” or “elder orphans” now comprise a demographic that’s unprecedented in American history. This relatively new segment of society has a unique set of challenges.

As your physical, intellectual, and emotional capacities diminish, a person on his own must determine how he will be able to make sound decisions on financial and legal issues, relationships, housing and healthcare. There are also more cases being reported of elder fraud, and new scams are designed to take money from seniors. An elderly person could also wind up lonely and penniless.

However, there is help. Professional guardians can assist the elderly in reviewing their financial statements, creating budgets, paying bills, keeping keep them organized and sorting mail and email to see what’s a legitimate bill or a solicitation or potential scam.

A guardianship, which is also known as a conservatorship, is a legal process that’s used when a senior can no longer make or communicate safe or sound decisions about himself person and/or his property, he’s become susceptible to fraud or undue influence. The fact that establishing a guardianship can remove substantial rights from a person means that it should only be considered after other alternatives have proven ineffective or are unavailable.

In addition to a court-ordered guardianship, there are other options. There are also certified geriatric care managers, certified daily money managers, as well as attorneys who specialize in elder law.

Solo agers should arrange a future legal guardianship for themselves, a person who will assume control in a fiduciary capacity, if they’re unable to make decisions for themselves. This may be a relative or a friend, as well as a professional fiduciary or private guardian.

In addition, everyone should have a healthcare directive and an estate plan. However, solo agers have a more urgent need to have these important documents in place, while they’re still somewhat young and healthy—because they don’t have an adult child who will fly in from the other side of the country to provide that assistance and guidance.

Talk to several potential guardians or fiduciaries and go with the one whose skills most closely fit your needs and with whom you feel the most comfortable. Check their references and credentials thoroughly. You can also select different people for different tasks, which gives you a critical system of checks and balances. Be certain that you understand exactly what services each will provide and their fees and get it all in writing.

Reference: NH Magazine(October 2018) “The Difficulties That Come With Solo Aging”

Not Wealthy? You Still Need an Estate Plan!

If you die without a will, you won’t have the opportunity to designate the guardian you want to care for your minor children. Instead, a judge will decide this.

There’s a saying about people who don’t have an estate plan created. They have a will, it’s just not the one that they want. Decisions are made by the state, and that includes who raises their kids.

Bigstock-Extended-Family-Outside-Modern-13915094If you’ve got young children under the age 18, says CNBC in a recent article, “You don’t have to be wealthy to put this estate plan into place,” you really need to make sure that you have a will. That’s where you can convey your wishes as to who should raise your children, in case tragedy hits and both you and your spouse are not able to.

If you die without a will, you won’t have the opportunity to designate the guardian you want to care for your minor children. Instead, a judge will decide this. It may be someone you really never considered for that essential responsibility.

That’s why a will is so critical for families with young children. You can also avoid or at least lessen conflicts between relatives by adding a guardianship clause in your will.

Without a will, the state’s intestacy laws will dictates how your cash and assets will be distributed when you die. Typically, the intestacy laws say that your estate will pass to your closest living relative—your spouse, your kids, your parents and your siblings.

These laws also stipulate how assets are divided among your family members. For example, in New York, your surviving spouse gets 50% of the balance, and your children get everything else.

But what if that's not what you want? Then you better have a will.

It’s also important to know that your will won't override your beneficiary designations for your retirement accounts and life insurance.

While you’re at it, a couple of other documents you'll need to get your basic estate plan together, are your financial power of attorney and medical directives. Power of attorney grants a person that you name to oversee your finances, if you're incapacitated. Medical directives allow you to state how you want to receive health care, if you’re unable to communicate your wishes.

An estate planning attorney can help you create the documents you need, to ensure that your children and you and your spouse are protected, before and after death. It’s an important part of your responsibility and will also provide you with peace of mind.

Reference: CNBC (August 8, 2018)“You don’t have to be wealthy to put this estate plan into place”

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