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Category: Elder Law

Plan for Your Pet During the Pandemic

How Can You Disinherit A Child?

How can you disinherit a child, and be sure that your plan is going to stand up to challenge? Let’s say you want to leave everything you own to your children, but you can’t stand and don’t trust their spouses. That might make you want to delay making an estate plan, because it’s a hard thing to come to terms with, says a recent article “Dealing with disinheritance, spouses” from the Times Herald-Record. There are options, but make the right choice, or your estate could face challenges.

Some people choose to leave nothing at all for their child in the will, so that if there is a divorce or if the child dies, their assets won’t end up in the daughter or son-in-law’s pocket. For some parents, particularly those who are estranged from their children, this can create more problems than it solves.

Disinheriting a child with a will is not always a good idea. If you die with assets in your name only, they go through the court proceeding called probate, when the will is used to guide asset distribution. The law requires that all children, even disinherited ones, are notified that you have died, and that probate is going to occur. The disinherited child can object to the provisions in the will, which can lead to a will contest. Most families engaged in litigation over a will become estranged—even those that weren’t beforehand. The cost of litigation will also take a bite out of the value of your estate.

A common tactic is to leave a small amount of money to the disinherited child in the will and add a no-contest clause in the will. The no-contest clause expressly states that anyone who contests the will loses any right to their inheritance. Here is the problem: the disgruntled child may still object, despite the no contest clause, and invalidate the will by claiming undue influence or incapacity or that the will was not executed properly. If their claims are valid, then they’ll have great satisfaction of undoing your planning.

A trust is better to disinherit a child than a will. Not only do trusts avoid probate, but (unless state law requires otherwise at death) the children do not receive notice of the creation of a trust. An inheritance trust, where you leave money to your child, names a trustee to be in charge of the trust and the child is the only beneficiary of the trust. The child might be a co-trustee, but they do not have complete control over the trust. The spouse has no control over the inheritance, and you can also name what happens to the assets in the trust, if the child dies.

This kind of planning is called “controlling from the grave,” but it’s better than not knowing if your child will be able to protect their inheritance from a divorce or from creditors.

With a national divorce rate around fifty percent, it’s hard to tell if the in-law you welcome with an open heart, will one day become a predatory enemy in the future, even after you are gone. The use of trusts can ensure that assets remain in the bloodline and protect your hard work from divorces, lawsuits, creditors and other unexpected events.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (June 6, 2020) “Dealing with disinheritance, spouses”

 

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Times In Life When Wills Need To Be Reviewed

There are times in life when wills need to be reviewed. Estate planning lawyers hear it all the time—people meaning to update their will, but somehow never getting around to actually getting it done. The only group larger than the ones who mean to “someday,” are the ones who don’t think they ever need to update their documents, says the article “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” from Kiplinger. The problems become abundantly clear when people die, and survivors learn that their will is so out-of-date that it creates a world of problems for a grieving family.

There are some wills that do stand the test of time, but they are far and few between. Families undergo all kinds of changes, and those changes should be reflected in the will. Here are one dozen times in life when wills need to be reviewed:

Welcoming a child to the family. The focus is on naming a guardian and a trustee to oversee their finances. The will should be flexible to accommodate additional children in the future.

Divorce is a possibility. Don’t wait until the divorce is underway to make changes. Do it beforehand. If you die before the divorce is finalized, your spouse will have marital rights to your property. Once you file for divorce, in many states you are not permitted to change your will, until the divorce is finalized. Make no moves here, however, without the advice of your attorney.

Your divorce has been finalized. If you didn’t do it before, update your will now. Don’t neglect updating beneficiaries on life insurance and any other accounts that may have named your ex as a beneficiary.

When your child(ren) marry. You may be able to mitigate the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating trusts in your will, so anything you leave your child won’t be considered a marital asset, if his or her marriage goes south.

Your beneficiary has problems with drugs or money. Money left directly to a beneficiary is at risk of being attached by creditors or dissolving into a drug habit. Updating your will to includes trusts that allow a trustee to only distribute funds under optimal circumstances protects your beneficiary and their inheritance.

Named executor or beneficiary dies. Your old will may have a contingency plan for what should happen if a beneficiary or executor dies, but you should probably revisit the plan. If a named executor dies and you don’t update the will, then what happens if the second executor dies?

A young family member grows up. Most people name a parent as their executor, then a spouse or trusted sibling. Two or three decades go by. An adult child may now be ready to take on the task of handling your estate.

New laws go into effect. In recent months, there have been many big changes to the law that impact estate planning, from the SECURE Act to the CARES act. Ask your estate planning attorney every few years, if there have been new laws that are relevant to your estate plan.

An inheritance or a windfall. If you come into a significant amount of money, your tax liability changes. You’ll want to update your will, so you can do efficient tax planning as part of your estate plan.

Can’t find your will? If you can’t find the original will, then you need a new will. Your estate planning attorney will make sure that your new will has language that states revokes all prior wills.

Buying property in another country or moving to another country. Some countries have reciprocity with America. However, transferring property to an heir in one country may be delayed, if the will needs to be probated in another country. Ask your estate planning attorney, if you need wills for each country in which you own property.

Family and friends are enemies. Friends have no rights when it comes to your estate plan. Therefore, if families and friends are fighting, the family member will win. If you suspect that your family may push back to any bequests to friends, consider adding a “No Contest” clause to disinherit family members who try to elbow your friends out of the estate.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”

 

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Your Children Wish You Had an Estate Plan

It is the adult children who are in charge of aging parents when they need long-term care. They are also the ones who settle estates when parents die. Even if they can’t always come out and tell you, your children wish you had an estate plan. The recent article, “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan” from the Times Herald-Record spells out exactly why an elder law estate plan is so important for your loved ones.

Avoid court proceedings while living. In a perfect world, everyone over age 18 will have an advance directive, including a power of attorney, a health care proxy, and a living will. These documents appoint others to make financial, legal, and medical decisions, in case of incapacity. Without them, the children will have to get involved with time-consuming, expensive guardianship proceedings, where a judge appoints a legal guardian to make these decisions. Your life is turned over to a court-appointed guardian, instead of your children or another person of your choosing.

Avoid court proceedings after you die. If you die and assets are in your name alone, then your estate will go through probate, a court proceeding that can be time consuming and costly. Not having any assets in trusts leaves your kids open to the possibility of wills being challenged, disputes among family members and litigation that can drag on for years.

Wills in probate court are public documents. Trusts are private documents. Do you really want a stranger to access your will and learn about your assets?

An elder law estate plan also plans for the possibility of long-term care and costs. Nursing home care costs can run between $12,000—$18,000 per month. If you don’t have long-term care insurance, you can create a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT) that protects assets in the trust from nursing home costs, once the assets are in the trust for five years. The MAPT also protects assets from homecare provided by Medicaid, called “community” Medicaid, once the assets are in the trust for 30 months under a new rule that starts on October 1, 2020.

The “elder law power of attorney” has unlimited gifting powers that could save about half of a single person’s assets from the cost of nursing homes. This can be done on the eve of needing nursing home care, but it is always better to do this planning in advance.

Having a plan in place decreases stress and anxiety for adult children. They are likely busy with their own lives, working, caring for their children and coping in a challenging world. When a plan is in place, they don’t have to start learning about Medicaid law, navigating their way through the court system, or wondering why their parents did not take advantage of the time they had to plan properly.

You probably don’t want your children remembering you as the parents who left a financial and legal mess behind for the them to clean up. Speak with an elder law estate planning attorney to create a plan for your future. Your children will appreciate it.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 23, 2020) “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan”

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Alzheimer’s and other Brain Diseases Require Special Estate Planning Steps

There are certain steps that can be taken by individuals, loved ones and family members to make this challenging time safer and smarter, advises an article “Financial And Estate Planning Steps To Take Now: Special Considerations For Those With Brain Disease” from Forbes.

Anyone living with a neurologic condition needs to be sure their planning reflects not only their condition but their personal experience of the condition. The variability of each person’s experience of a brain disease, from symptoms and severity to the progression rate and future prognosis to the possibility of any recovery, affects how they need to plan.

For an Alzheimer’s patient, in early stages there may be no problems in signing legal documents and putting legal safeguards in place to protect finances. Most people are not aware that the degree of competency to sign legal documents varies, depending upon the complexity of the documents to be signed and the circumstances. A relatively low level of competency is required to sign a will. This is known as “testamentary capacity.” A higher level of competency is required to sign something like a revocable trust, investment policy statement, etc. Therefore, a person who may be legally able to sign a will may not have the legal capacity to sign other documents. Alzheimer’s patients need to get their entire estate plan in order, as soon as a diagnosis is received. Safeguards are extremely important, including having an independent person, like a CPA or trusted family member, receive copies of all monthly bank and brokerage statements, in case abilities decline faster than anticipated.

Patients living with peripheral neuropathy may experience issues with balance, burning sensations, dizziness, hypersensitive skin and pain that make wearing socks or shoes impossible. If the condition becomes so severe that the person becomes homebound, they need to make changes: set up accounts, so bills can be paid online, have income streams set to automatic deposit and simplify and consolidate accounts. It is important to have a Power of Attorney (POA) that is effective immediately or a revocable living trust with a co-trustee. In this way, you do not have to leave home to conduct your business.

Parkinson’s disease may not be well understood by professional advisors. You’ll need to explain that your facial expression—Parkinsonian masked face—does not mean that you are not responding to a conversation. They need to know that your handwriting may change, becoming small and cramped. This can result in a bank or other financial institution refusing to accept your signature on documents. Your attorney can prepare a document that confirms you are living with Parkinson’s disease and that micrographia is one of your symptoms. The document should include three or four different signatures to reflect the variations. Have each signature witnessed and notarized.

People living with MS (multiple sclerosis) face the possibility of an exacerbation that could leave them incapacitated at any time. A revocable trust to coordinate financial management, with trusted individuals as co-trustees should be in place.

For people with these and other brain illnesses, an emergency financial and legal road map needs to be prepared. It should include monthly recurring bills, non-recurring bills like life insurance, property taxes, etc. Contact information for key advisors, your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor, banker, insurance agent, etc., needs to be shared. Your estate plan should be updated, if you haven’t reviewed it in three or four years. If you don’t have an estate plan in place, now is the time to have one created.

Reference: Forbes (May 17, 2020) “Financial And Estate Planning Steps To Take Now: Special Considerations For Those With Brain Disease”

 

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Should I Give My Kid the House Now or Leave It to Him in My Will?

Transferring your house to your children while you’re alive may avoid probate, the court process that otherwise follows death. However, gifting a home also can result in a big, unnecessary tax burden and put your house at risk, if your children are sued or file for bankruptcy.

Further, you also could be making a big mistake, if you hope it will help keep the house from being used for your nursing home bills.

MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “Why you shouldn’t give your house to your adult children” advises that there are better ways to transfer a house to your children, as well as a little-known potential fix that may help even if the giver has since passed away.

If you bequeath a house to your children so that they get it after your death, they get a “step-up in tax basis.” All the appreciation that occurred while the parent owned the house is never taxed. However, when a parent gives an adult child a house, it can be a tax nightmare for the recipient. For example, if the mother paid $16,000 for her home in 1976, and the current market value is $200,000, none of that gain would be taxable, if the son inherited the house.

Families who see this mistake in time can undo the damage, by gifting the house back to the parent.

Sometimes people transfer a home to try to qualify for Medicaid, the government program that pays health care and nursing home bills for the poor. However, any gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for the program can result in a penalty period, when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.

In addition, giving your home to someone else also can expose you to their financial problems. Their creditors could file liens on your home and, depending on state law, get some or most of its value. In a divorce, the house could become an asset that must be sold and divided in a property settlement.

However, Tax Code says that if the parent retains a “life interest” or “life estate” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift.

There are specific rules for what qualifies as a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the property and liability for its bills. To make certain, a child, as executor of his mother’s estate, could file a gift tax return on her behalf to show that he was given a “remainder interest,” or the right to inherit when his mother’s life interest expired at her death.

There are smarter ways to transfer a house. There are other ways around probate. Many states and DC permit “transfer on death” deeds that let people leave their homes to beneficiaries without having to go through probate. Another option is a living trust.

Reference: MarketWatch (April 16, 2020) “Why you shouldn’t give your house to your adult children”

 

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Do Beneficiaries of a Will Get Notified?

In most instances, a will is required to go through probate to prove its validity.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified” explains that there are exceptions to the requirement for probate, if the assets of the diseased are below a set dollar amount. This dollar amount depends on state law.

For example, in Alabama, the threshold is $3,000, and in California, the cut-off is an estate with assets valued at less than $150,000. If the assets are valued below those limits, the family can divide any property as they want with court approval.

The beneficiaries of a will must be notified after the will is filed in the probate court, and in addition, probated wills are placed in the public record. As a result, anyone who wants to look, can find out the details. When the will is proved to be valid, anyone can look at the will at the courthouse where it was filed, including anyone who expects to be a beneficiary.

However, if the will is structured to avoid probate, there are no specific notification requirements.  This is pretty uncommon.

As a reminder, probate is a legal process that establishes the validity of a will. After examining the will, the probate judge collects the decedent’s assets with the help of the executor. When all of the assets and property are inventoried, they are then distributed to the heirs, as instructed in the will.

Once the probate court declares the will to be valid, all beneficiaries are required to be notified within a certain period established by state probate law.

There are devices to avoid probate, such as setting up joint tenancy or making an asset payable upon death. In these circumstances, there are no formal notification requirements, unless specifically stated in the terms of the will.

In addition, some types of assets are not required to go through probate. These assets include accounts, such as pension assets, life insurance proceeds and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

The county courthouse will file its probated wills in a department, often called the Register of Wills.

A will is a wise plan for everyone. Ask a qualified estate planning attorney to help you draft yours today.

Reference: Investopedia (Nov. 21, 2019) “When the Beneficiaries of a Will Are Notified”

 

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Is Long-Term Care Insurance Really a Good Idea?

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Is Long-Term Care Insurance Right For You?” says that a big drawback for many, is the fact that LTCI is expensive. However, think about the costs of long-term care. For example, the current median annual cost for assisted living is $43,539, and for a private room in a nursing home, it’s more than $92,000.

Another issue is that there’s no way to accurately determine if in fact you’ll even need long-term care. Much of it depends on your own health and family history. However, planning for the possibility is key.

Remember that Medicare and other types of health insurance don’t cover most of the cost of long-term care—what are known as “activities of daily living,” like bathing, dressing, eating, using the bathroom and moving. Medicare will only pay for medically necessary skilled nursing and home care, such as giving shots and changing dressings and not assisted-living costs, like bathing and eating. Supplemental insurance policies generally don’t pay for this type of care.

Those with a low net worth might qualify for long-term care provided under Medicaid.

Shop around, because policies and prices are different. Check the policy terms and be sure you understand:

  • The things that are covered, such as skilled nursing, custodial care, and assisted living
  • If Alzheimer’s disease is covered as it’s a leading reason for needing long-term care
  • If there are any limitations on pre-existing conditions.
  • The maximum payouts
  • If the payments are adjusted for inflation
  • The lag time until benefits begin
  • How long benefits will last
  • If there’s a waiver of premium benefit, which suspends premiums when you are collecting long-term care benefits
  • If there’s a non-forfeiture benefit, which offers limited coverage even if you cancel the policy
  • If the current premiums are guaranteed in future years, or if there are limits on future increases
  • How many times rates have increased in the past 10 years
  • If you purchase a group policy through an employer, see if it is portable (if you can take it with you if you change jobs).

Typically, when you are between 50 to 65 is the most cost-effective time to buy LTCI, if you’re in good health. The younger you buy, the lower the cost. However, you will be paying premiums longer. Premiums usually increase as you get older and less healthy. There’s a possibility that you’ll be denied coverage, if your health becomes poor. Therefore, while it’s not inexpensive, buying LTCI sooner rather than later may be the best move.

Reference: Forbes (April 17, 2020) “Is Long-Term Care Insurance Right For You?”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Medicare, Medicaid, Paying for a Nursing Home, Long-Term Care Planning, Long-Term Care Insurance, Assisted Living, Nursing Home Care, Disability, Elder Care

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Retirement Planning and Declining Abilities

Whether the reason is Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or any of a number of illnesses that lead to dementia, it’s hard for families to think about legal or financial concerns, when a diagnosis is first made. This can lead to serious problems in the near future, warns the article “Cognitive Decline Shouldn’t Derail Retirement Planning. Here are Some Tips to Prepare Your Finances” from Barron’s. The time to act is as soon as the family realizes their loved one is having a problem—even before the diagnosis is official.

Here are some useful tips for navigating cognitive decline:

Take an inventory. Families should create a detailed list of assets and liabilities, including information on who has access to each of the accounts. Don’t leave out assets that have gone paperless, like online checking, savings, credit card and investment accounts. Without a paper trail, it may be impossible to identify assets. Try to do this while the person still has some ability to be actively involved. This can be difficult, especially when adult children have not been involved with their parent’s finances. Ask about insurance policies, veterans’ benefits, retirement accounts and other assets. One person in the family should be the point person.

Get an idea of what future costs will be. This is the one that everyone wants to avoid but knowing what care costs will be is critical. Will the person need adult day care or in-home care at first, then full-time medical care or admission to a nursing facility? Costs vary widely, and many families are completely in the dark about the numbers. Out-of-pocket medications or uncovered expenses are often a surprise. The family needs to review any insurance policy documents and find out if there are options to add or amend coverage to suit the person’s current and future needs.

Consider bringing in a professional to help. An elder law estate planning attorney, financial planner, or both, may be needed to help put the person’s legal and financial affairs in order. There are many details that must be considered, from how assets are titled, trusts, financial powers of attorney, advance health care directives and more. If Medicaid planning was not done previously, there may be some tools available to protect the spouse, but this must be done with an experienced attorney.

Automate any finances if possible. Even if the person might be able to stay in their own home, advancing decline may make tasks, like bill paying, increasingly difficult. If the person can sign up for online banking, with an adult child granted permission to access the account, it may be easier as time goes by. Some monthly bills, such as insurance premiums, can be set up for automatic payment to minimize the chances of their being unpaid and coverage being lost. Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits are now required to be sent via direct deposit or prepaid debit card. If a family member is still receiving a paper check, then now is the time to sign up for direct deposit, so that checks are not lost. Pension checks, if any, should also be made direct deposit.

Have the correct estate planning documents been prepared? A health care representative and a general durable power of attorney should be created, if they don’t already exist. The durable power of attorney needs to include the ability to take action in “what if” cases, such as the need to enroll in Medicaid, access digital assets and set up any trusts. A durable power of attorney should be prepared before the person loses cognitive capacity. Once that occurs, they are not legally able to sign any documents, and the family will have to go through the guardianship process to become a legal guardian of the family member.

Reference: Barron’s (Jan. 11, 2020) “Cognitive Decline Shouldn’t Derail Retirement Planning. Here are Some Tips to Prepare Your Finances”

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What are the Blind Spots in Social Security?

The SimplyWise survey also found that there are five areas that are especially confusing to people., Only one in 300 of those who took a five-question quiz answered all the questions correctly, reports Think Advisor in the article entitled “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security.”

Here are some Social Security questions that might be relevant and not knowing the answers could cost you thousands of dollars a year in income.

  1. What age do I claim to maximize my monthly earned Social Security benefit? The age is 70, although 62 years is when an individual can first make a claim. However, your benefits grow each year you wait—up to age 70. According to SimplyWise, only 42% of quiz takers got this answer right.
  2. What’s the earliest age non-disabled people can get survivor benefits? A mere 9% answered this correctly. It’s age 60. Many think it is age 62, the age people can begin claiming Social Security.That is correct for earned benefits and spousal benefits.
  3. Is a current spouse required to be getting Social Security benefits, for the other spouse to qualify for spousal benefits? Yes. Just 20% of respondents got this answer correct. It is important to understand that if both spouses are claiming Social Security, one can either receive their own benefit or 50% of their spouse’s amount, whichever is more.
  4. Is a divorced spouse able to get survivor benefits? Yes, and just 38% of people got this answer right. The criteria is somewhat different than for married people. The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, and there are certain rules that apply to remarrying. However, divorced spouses can collect survivor benefits under a deceased ex-spouse.
  5. Can divorced spouses get spousal benefits? Yes, and 67% got this answer correct. Divorced spouses who were married for at least 10 years and haven’t remarried can claim spousal benefits.

Reference: Think Advisor (Feb. 13, 2020) “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security”

 

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Nursing Home Care Costs and Applying for Medicaid

Medicaid provides several programs funded through a state-federal agreement, explains the article “Planning a must: Medicaid and paying for nursing homes” from The Dallas Morning News. One of the programs provides long-term nursing home care benefits to pay for nursing home or approved residential care facilities. However, requirements to qualify for Medicaid vary widely from state to state. It’s best to speak with an elder law attorney, who will be able to help you plan in advance.

Let’s take Texas as our example. To qualify in the Lone Star state, you must have a medical need and fall under the income and asset caps, which change yearly. In 2020, the income limit for an individual is $2,349 and the asset (resource) amount is $2,000. For a married person, your spouse can have income and resources that are protected, $25,728 is the minimum SPRA (the minimum resource protected amount) and the maximum is $128,640. The monthly maintenance needs allowance for a spouse is $3,216.50. If they sound like low levels, they are. However, there are some assets that Texas does not count. The well spouse may continue to maintain the family home, as long as its value is less than $595,000. A car, burial plots and prepaid funeral arrangements are also permitted.

For most people, this presents a bad situation. Their assets are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but they don’t have enough money to pay for nursing home care. That’s where Medicaid planning with an elder law attorney comes in. The attorney will know where assets can be shielded to protect the well spouse and how to work within the Medicaid requirements.

A word of advice: Don’t start giving away assets because you think that you can do this yourself. The first rule: there is a five-year lookback period, and if assets have been distributed within a five year period of the person applying for Medicaid, their eligibility will be delayed. The rules about gifting assets are complicated and mistakes are non-negotiable.

Be careful of elder exploitation. Planning for Medicaid is one thing, being convinced to impoverish yourself so someone else can have a luxurious lifestyle is another. There’s a fine line between the two. Be aware of the difference. An attorney can play an important role here, since they have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect their client’s interests.

Be certain that you have a Durable Power of Attorney in place. Why? If you become incapacitated during the process of Medicaid planning, your agent will be able to help with Medicaid planning and file for the Medicaid application.

Don’t sell your home. In most states, the primary residence is a protected asset for Medicaid. Once it is sold, however, the proceeds of the sale are considered a personal asset and will be counted.

It’s also important to understand that Medicaid does not pay for all nursing home stays. Medicaid pays for a nursing-home designated “Medicaid bed” in a semi-private room. Depending on where you live, there may not be as many Medicaid beds as there are people who need them.

An elder lawyer will be able to help you and your family with planning for Medicaid, and with an application. You’ll be better off relying on the help of an experienced attorney.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (March 15, 2020) “Planning a must: Medicaid and paying for nursing homes”