Category: Elder Law

Consider a family meeting about estate planning

Consider a Family Meeting about Estate Planning

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well” emphasizes that no matter the amount of wealth that a family has, wealth education is crucial to overall financial education, preparing for the future and to becoming a good steward of an inheritance. Consider a family meeting about estate planning.

Family meetings are a great way of bringing members of a family together with a goal of facilitating communication and education. This allows for sharing family stories, communicating values, setting goals to help ensure transparency and helping members across generations understand their roles around stewardship and wealth.

Here are some ideas on how to have an effective family meeting about estate planning:

Prepare. The host of the meeting should spend time with each participating family member to help them understand the reason for the meeting and learn more about their expectations. There should be a desire and commitment from the participants to invest time and effort to make family meetings about estate planning a success.

Plan. Create a clear agenda that defines the purpose and goals of each family meeting about estate planning. Share this agenda with participants before the meeting. Select a neutral location that makes everyone comfortable and encourages participation.

Have time for learning. Include an educational component in the agenda, such as an introduction to investing, estate planning, budgeting and saving, or philanthropy.

Have a “parking lot.” Note any topics raised that might need to be addressed in a future estate planning meeting.

Use a facilitator. Perhaps have a trusted adviser facilitate the meeting. This can help with managing the agenda, offering a different perspective, calming emotions and making certain that everyone is heard and understood.

Follow up. Include some to-do’s and schedule the next meeting to set expectations about continuing to bring the family together.

Consider a family meeting about estate planning that will allow all family members to feel they are included in decisions, and foster a better understanding of what their inheritance will look like.

If you would like to learn more about difficult family conversations, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 1, 2021) “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well”

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understanding what a DNR does

Understanding what a DNR Order does

A do-not-resuscitate order, or DNR, is written document with instructions informing healthcare personnel not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). However, The Petoskey News-Review’s recent article entitled “Do-not-resuscitate orders apply to use of CPR in critical situations” explains that many patients don’t have a complete understanding of what a DNR order does and its application to their medical care. The DNR is a legally binding order signed by a physician at a patient’s request that lets medical professionals know you don’t want to be resuscitated.

CPR is performed in only one situation — if a patient is unresponsive, doesn’t have a pulse and isn’t breathing. If that happens, medical personnel have two courses of action: (i) allow for a natural death; or (ii) try CPR. If you’re unresponsive, have no pulse and aren’t breathing, that is the only situation in which any medical provider should attempt CPR. Having a DNR doesn’t mean don’t treat. The fact that you have a DNR order means you should receive exactly the same treatment that another patient who doesn’t have a DNR receives, with all the same medications and procedures.

As such, patients should know the limitations that come with CPR.

If CPR is successful, it means just one thing – that someone has regained a pulse. That doesn’t have any implications about a patient’s cognitive or mental status after CPR is administered.

Research shows that the likelihood of CPR being successful (in regaining a pulse) is in the range of 15-20% of patients. Thus, out of 100 patients who experience cardiac arrest and have CPR, about 80 to 85 of the patients will still die.

Note that there’s a difference between a hospital DNR and an out-of-hospital DNR. An out-of-hospital DNR is for those who don’t want to be resuscitated, if they have problems at home or anywhere outside of a medical facility. Those forms follow the patient, whether they are at home or not.

You should discuss these sensitive matters and signing a DNR when no one’s under pressure from a medical emergency.

The main part of advance care planning is appointing someone you trust to speak for you, if you can’t speak for yourself. With an advance care directive, you can state your preference or opposition to a DNR order.

In addition, everyone should have a healthcare power of attorney, an advance directive, or a patient advocate designation. This is where you are selecting someone to make medical decisions, when you are unable to do so for yourself. Therefore, it is vital that the person you appoint has a complete understanding of what a DNR order does.

If you would like to learn more about DNRs and advance directives, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Petoskey News-Review (Sep. 23, 2021) “Do-not-resuscitate orders apply to use of CPR in critical situations”

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gift-tax is treated differently by IRS and Medicaid

Gift-Tax treated differently by IRS and Medicaid

Different government agencies have different rules for the same things. It’s a hard lesson, especially for those who try to use their $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion for asset protection for long term care. The results are not good. The gift-tax is treated differently by IRS and Medicaid.

A recent article from The News Enterprise makes it clear: “Medicaid and IRS don’t view gift-tax-exemption in same way.”

To understand the exclusion better, let’s start by looking at what the amount is being excluded from. The IRS generally allows each person to gift a total of $11.7 million in gifts during their lifetime and after death without incurring a gift tax. There are exceptions, but this is true in most cases. However, that first $15,000 given to each person within each calendar year is excluded from the total amount.

If a woman gives her three children $15,000 each per year for five years, she has given away a total of $225,000. However, this amount is not deducted from the $11.7 million that she is allowed within her lifetime non-taxable gift amount.

However, if the same woman gave her children $16,000 each for five years, the extra $3,000 per year must be deducted from her lifetime non-taxable gift limit. Unless she reaches the $11.7 million after her death, her estate will still not pay taxes on the gifts. She will be required to file a form every year letting the IRS know that she is reducing her limit.

The $15,000 gift tax exclusion each year simplifies the ability to give gifts without cumbersome reporting requirements. However, it creates huge—and costly—problems when used in an attempt to become eligible for Medicaid. This federally funded program was created to help low-income people pay for medical and nursing home care. A person’s assets and any financial transactions made within a five-year lookback period are considered when determining eligibility.

What most people don’t know is that Medicaid does not allow the gift tax exclusion to be used for the lookback period.

Remember the woman who gave her three children $15,000 each year for five years? If she goes into a nursing facility in the fifth year, after giving her final set of gifts, the IRS won’t count any of those gifts made against her lifetime gift tax exemption. However, Medicaid will count the full amount—$225,000—as if those assets were available to pay for her care. The penalty period will make it necessary for her or her family to pay for care, possibly for five years.

To take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion safely when Medicaid may be in the future, an estate planning attorney can create an Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust to hold assets. This is a hybrid trust used to separate assets from the grantor just enough to begin the five-year lookback period while holding property within the grantor’s taxable estate, allowing for a continuing opportunity to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion without triggering a new five-year look back at each gift.

The gift-tax exemption is treated differently by IRS and Medicaid because they work under different rules. Understanding what each agency requires can protect the family and those needing nursing home care without creating expensive and stressful results. In addition, some Medicaid planning techniques may work in some states but not in others.

If you would like to learn more about the gift tax, and other estate taxes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The News Enterprise (Sep. 14, 2021) “Medicaid and IRS don’t view gift-tax-exemption in same way”

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protect loved ones from financial elder abuse

Protect Loved Ones from Financial Elder Abuse

In 2021, more than 6.2 million people in America live with some form of Alzheimer’s disease and need some type of memory care. At the same time, financial abuse and scams, especially those targeting people 65 and older, are on the rise, says the Better Business Bureau. It is important to protect loved ones from financial elder abuse.

Individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia face unique challenges when it comes to financial elder abuse and scams, according to a recent report “Protecting you or a loved one from financial elder abuse and scams” from Idaho News 6. The increasing number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses increases chances of needing in-home, memory care or skilled nursing care at some point, making it increasingly important to plan ahead. When there is no advance planning, financial devastation and the potential for financial elder abuse occurs.

Planning starts with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help the family prepare these four basic documents:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Financial Power of Attorney
  • Health Care Power of Attorney
  • Living Will/Advanced Directive

There are additional documents, depending upon the individual’s situation, including a Durable Power of Attorney, used to give another person the ability to make decisions for property, business and financial matters. In cases of future incapacity, this is extremely important.

Power of Attorney: This appoints an “agent” who can make financial decisions on behalf of the “principal.” The POA creates a fiduciary relationship between the agent and their principal, wherein the agent must act in the best interest of the principal, above their own interest. The selection of a POA is very important, since it is a big responsibility.

The Principal should also name a successor agent, in case the primary agent is not able or willing to take on their role. Understand the possibility of abuse of power by the agent before finalizing any documents. An agent who abuses their powers or reaches beyond their powers can be prosecuted.  However, it is best to make a good choice from the start and try to avoid problems.

Most of us get all the right protection in place for our homes, cars and have health insurance in place. However, the chances of needing long-term care for a dementia are actually higher than having your house burn down.

Planning for incapacity and protecting loved ones from financial elder abuse can be accomplished with the help of an estate planning attorney. Have the conversations with your attorney and your family early and get going.

If you would like to learn more about elder abuse, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Idaho News 6 (Sep. 14, 2021) “Protecting you or a loved one from financial elder abuse and scams”

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understanding of how a conservatorship works

Understanding how a Conservatorship Works

Kiplinger’s recent article titled “Britney Spears’ Sad Song … Warning: This Could Happen to You” says that conservatorship is a topic that’s been in the news lately with Britney’s recent court battle. Most people do not have an understanding of how a conservatorship works.

In Britney’s case, while there has not been any evidence alleged of actual fraud or financial abuse in her conservatorship, she lost nearly all control over her finances, her business affairs and the most personal aspects of her life.

She also doesn’t want her father to be the person to hold that much power or control over her life.

A judge can take charge of an individual’s personal and financial decisions and appoint a third party to make decisions almost on an unlimited basis. These proceedings can exact a significant emotional toll and be tremendously expensive and time-consuming.

Conservatorship can happen to anyone, if and when you’re too disabled (due to an accident or illness) or too incompetent (due to infirmity of mind, old age or dementia, or a similar condition) to handle your own affairs.

If your estate plan addresses this with a chain of command to act on your behalf, no formal court proceedings would be required. Your wishes can be honored, and all the drama like that which Britney Spears has endured can be avoided.

If you are under age 60, there is a four to five times greater likelihood that you’ll become disabled, due to an accident or illness, for a period of more than one year, than your chances of dying. This is because modern medicine can often prevent death but not cure the illness or condition causing the disability. If you’re over age 60, there’s a 70% chance that, during your remaining lifetime, you’ll be too disabled or incompetent to act for yourself, for a period of at least two to 2½ years.

However, Britney Spears’ battle to end her court-ordered conservatorship took an unexpected turn recently, when her father and the conservator of her estate, Jamie Spears, filed a petition to end the arrangement. Mr. Spears cited his daughter’s pleas at two separate court hearings over the summer in his request to terminate the 13-year conservatorship.

“Recent events related to this conservatorship have called into question whether circumstances have changed to such an extent that grounds for establishment of a conservatorship may no longer exist,” the filing states. The bottom line is this: if you, or a loved one come to that point in life, understanding how a conservatorship works is the first step toward beginning that process – and avoiding some of the more difficult problems reflected in Britney Spears’ case.

If you would like to learn more about conservatorship, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (July 14, 2021) “Britney Spears’ Sad Song … Warning: This Could Happen to You”

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What should women know about long-term care

What Should Women Know about Long-Term Care?

A longer retirement increases the odds of needing long-term care. An AARP study found more than 70% of nursing home residents were women, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care.”  What should women know about long-term care?

Living longer also increases the chances of living it alone because living longer may mean outliving a spouse. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, “In 2018, women comprised 74% of solo households age 80 and over.”

The first step is to review your retirement projections. It’s wise to look at “what-if” scenarios: What-if the husband passes early? How does that impact their retirement? What if a female client lives to 100? Will she have enough to live on? What if a single woman needs long-term care for dementia? Alzheimer’s and dementia can last for years, eating up a retiree’s nest egg.

Medicare and Medicaid. Government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are complicated. For instance, Medicare may cover some long-term care expenses, but only for the first 100 days. Medicare doesn’t pay for custodial care (at home long-term care). Medicaid pays for long-term care. However, you must qualify financially.

Planning for long-term care. If a woman has a high retirement success rate, she may want to self-insure her future long-term care expenses. This can mean setting up a designated long-term care investment account solely to be used for future long-term care expenses. If a woman has a modest degree of retirement success, she may want to lower her current expenses to save more for the future. She may also want to look at long-term care insurance.

Social Security. Women can also think about waiting to claim Social Security until age 70. If women live longer, the extra benefits accrued by waiting can help with long-term care. Women with a higher-earning husband may want to ask the higher-earning spouse to delay until age 70, if possible. When the higher-earning spouse dies, the widow can step into the higher benefit. The average break-even age is generally around 77-83 for Social Security. If an individual can live longer than 83, the more dollars and sense it makes to delay collecting until age 70.

Estate Planning. Having a comprehensive estate plan is a must. Women (and men) should have a power of attorney (POA). A POA gives a trusted agent the ability to write checks and send money to pay for long-term care.

When it comes to long-term care, women should know their own health and the potential drain on the retirement savings. Work with a financial advisor and estate planning attorney to make sure your later years are secure.

If you would like to learn more about long-term care, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 11, 2021) “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care”

 

benefits of a charitable lead trust

Which Trust Is Right for You?

Everyone wins when estate planning attorneys, financial advisors and accounting professionals work together on a comprehensive estate plan. Each of these professionals can provide their insights when helping you make decisions in their area. Guiding you to the best possible options tends to happen when everyone is on the same page, says a recent article “Choosing Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts” from U.S. News & World Report. Which trust is right for you?

What is a trust and what do trusts accomplish? Trusts are not just for the wealthy. Many families use trusts to serve different goals, from controlling distributions of assets over generations to protecting family wealth from estate and inheritance taxes.

There are two basic kinds of trust. It can be difficult to know which trust is right for you and your family situation. There are also many specialized trusts in each of the two categories: the revocable trust and the irrevocable trust. The first can be revoked or changed by the trust’s creator, known as the “grantor.” The second is difficult and in some instances and impossible to change, without the complete consent of the trust’s beneficiaries.

There are pros and cons for each type of trust.

Let’s start with the revocable trust, which is also referred to as a living trust. The grantor can make changes to the trust at any time, from removing assets or beneficiaries to shutting down the trust entirely. When the grantor dies, the trust becomes irrevocable. Revocable trusts are often used to pass assets to adult children, with a trustee named to manage the trust’s assets until the trust documents direct the trustee to distribute assets. Some people use a revocable trust to prevent their children from accessing wealth too early in their lives, or to protect assets from spendthrift children with creditor problems.

Irrevocable trusts are just as they sound: they can’t be amended once established. The terms of the trust cannot be changed, and the grantor gives up any control or legal right to the assets, which are owned by the trust.

Giving up control comes with the benefit that assets placed in the trust are no longer part of the grantor’s estate and are not subject to estate taxes. Creditors, including nursing homes and Medicaid, are also prevented from accessing assets in an irrevocable trust.

Irrevocable trusts were once used by people in high-risk professions to protect their assets from lawsuits. Irrevocable trusts are used to divest assets from estates, so people can become eligible for Medicaid or veteran benefits.

The revocable trust protects the grantor’s wishes, if the grantor becomes incapacitated. It also avoids probate, since the trust becomes irrevocable upon death and assets are outside of the probated estate. The revocable trust may include qualified assets, like IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s.

However, there are drawbacks. The revocable trust does not provide tax benefits or creditor protection while the grantor is living.

Your estate planning attorney will know which trust is right for your situation, and working with your financial advisor and accountant, will be able to create the plan that minimizes taxes and maximizes wealth transfers for your heirs. If you would like to learn more about the different types of trusts available, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 26, 2021) “Choosing Between Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts”

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Difference between Conservatorship and Guardianship

Difference between Conservatorship and Guardianship

It is common for people to misunderstand and confuse the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship. A conservatorship is created to let one person manage another’s finances. The conservator is court- appointed and may be responsible for financial decisions, such as retirement planning, the purchase or sale of property and the transfer of other financial assets.

The laws for conservatorships and guardianships can vary widely in different states. A conservatorship or guardianship is typically necessitated by a disability or injury that prevents a person from caring for themselves.

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One” explains that once you have a conservator in place, the burden is on you to prove you no longer need it. The biggest issue in most cases is abuse of power or neglect. Either (the conservator) is doing something self-serving, such as spending money on something other than the senior’s care, or they’re not helping the conservatee, or providing the care they need.

Estate planning attorneys may recommend a conservatorship or guardianship in standard estate planning documents, like a power of attorney. A conservator can be any adult, possibly a family member, who is tasked with the responsibility of managing the person’s finances.

Because a conservator would be in charge of a person’s assets, it’s common for the same person to be named to serve as attorney-in-fact or agent with a power of attorney. However, because a guardian is in charge of the person themselves, it’s wise to nominate the same people who are named to serve as health care agents in the client’s health care proxy. Sometimes, these are the same, but if they’re different, it is important for that difference to be stated.

A guardianship is created in cases when a person can’t take care of themselves and requires another person to make some or all of their personal decisions. This might include decisions about his or her medical care, support services, housing, or finances. While a court appoints both a conservator and a guardian, a conservatorship is generally limited to financial decisions. In contrast, a guardianship deals with personal decisions, like medical care, and may, in some instances, also cover financial decisions.

Just about every state has laws designed to protect those placed in a conservatorship or guardianship. For example, in New York, individuals must satisfy medical requirements to be determined unable to care for oneself. The burden of proof to meet such restrictions is high.

In addition, individuals can seek professional help in preparing for future circumstances that may prevent them from managing their finances and personal affairs. This includes estate planning documents, such as wills, powers of attorney, beneficiary forms and health care proxies. An estate planning attorney can help you better understand the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship, and advise you which is the best option for you and your family.

If you would like to learn more about conservatorship and guardianship, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: US News & World Report (Aug. 19, 2021) “How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One”

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Beneficiary Controlled Trust can protect your legacy

Taking Medicare or Employer’s Health Plan

As we get older, a common dilemma approaches: Do I consider taking Medicare or keep my employer’s health plan? Let’s say that you work full time and have a very good medical insurance plan, but it’s costly, especially if you also have been covering the rest of your family. Say that the spouse is 60 and permanently disabled and has been told he’s eligible for Medicare. A common question is whether the working spouse should remove the disabled spouse from the employer’s coverage and go with Medicare. What’s the best option?

NJ Money Help’s recent article entitled “Should we take Medicare or keep an employer health plan?” explains that there are different components of Medicare to cover specific services: Medicare Part A, Part B, and Part D.

Medicare Part A helps pay for hospital and facility costs. Medicare Part B helps pay for medical costs, like doctors and medical supplies. Medicare Part D is for prescription drug coverage. Most people don’t pay a monthly premium for Part A, but there are premiums associated with Part B and Part D coverage.

If an individual is 65 and has received disability benefits from Social Security for 24 months or has received certain disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board for 24 months, he or she will automatically get Medicare Part A and Part B.

You should also know that you can decide to delay Medicare Part B by contacting Social Security after you become eligible, and you receive the card. Discuss this option with your employer’s health care benefit department to understand how Medicare may or may not work with your current coverage. This is because there are some plans and health benefit plans (especially those with fewer than 20 employees) that become secondary to Medicare, when an enrollee becomes eligible for Medicare.

If you decide to participate in Medicare Part B, understand that there’s a cost. The premium is based on your income, and the standard Part B premium in 2021 is $148.50 per month, if your income was $176,000 or less in 2019 for a married filing joint return. The Medicare Part B premium increases as your income increases.

Medicare Part B pays for many of your medical bills. However, not all the costs for covered health care services and supplies are included. As a result, many seniors buy a supplemental insurance plan, called Medigap. This plan will pay for some of the remaining health care costs, like co-payments, coinsurance and deductibles that are not covered by Medicare.

Remember that it’s important to enroll in Medigap coverage within six months following Medicare Part B enrollment. Medigap is an additional cost along with your Medicare Part B premium and is sold through a private insurance company. To determine what will be more cost effective, you’ll need to compare the Medicare costs with your employer plan. There are many things to consider when taking Medicare or your employer’s health plan. Consulting with an experienced Elder Law attorney who has worked with Medicare coverage and knows the ins and outs.

If you would like to learn more about Medicare coverage, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: NJ Money Help (Aug. 13, 2021) “Should we take Medicare or keep an employer health plan?”

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choosing between assisted living or memory care

Choosing between Assisted Living or Memory Care

When considering a long-term care facility, it can be difficult choosing between assisted living or memory care options. Forbes’ recent article entitled “Assisted Living vs. Memory Care: Which Is Right for You?” explains that assisted living is a long-term care facility that lets seniors remain independent, while providing help with daily tasks. It often provides a small apartment, housekeeping, community meals and activities.

It’s critical to thoroughly review the support needs and challenges facing the person you’re supporting and to try to look honestly at what’s working and what’s not.

The best candidate for assisted living is a person who needs assistance with their activities of daily living but still has their reasoning skills intact. Residents can enjoy socialization and activities with people their own age. This helps with isolation after spouses and friends are no longer with them.

Assisted living residents frequently require personal care support. However, these seniors are able to communicate their needs. Residents may receive help with taking medicine, bathing, toileting and other activities of daily living, or ADLs.

Memory care facilities are secured facilities that serve the needs of those with some form of dementia. These facilities typically have smaller bedrooms but more available, open and inviting common spaces. Research shows the way memory care facilities are designed can be helpful in easing the stressful transition from home to a long-term care community. This includes softer colors, a lack of clutter and clear signage.

Confusion and memory loss can cause anxiety. That’s why having a predictable routine can help. As dementia progresses, a patient may forget how to do normal activities of daily living, such as brushing their teeth, eating, showering and dressing. Memory care facilities ensure that these needs are met.

A memory care facility typically has a smaller staff-to-patient ratio than assisted living because an individual suffering from dementia has greater care needs. Staff will frequently undergo additional training in dementia care.

A memory care facility isn’t always a standalone community. Assisted living or skilled nursing homes may have a separate memory care wing where seniors get the same socialization and activities but with 24/7 protection.

Rather than choosing between assisted living and memory care facilities, having both options in one place can be a plus. The person can start in a less restrictive type of setting in assisted living with the option to transition to memory care as needs, abilities and interests are changed by the condition.

Both types of care have some autonomy but help with hygiene and medication management. However, staff in a memory care unit is specifically trained to work with people with cognitive impairments.

If you would like to learn more about long term care options, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 16, 2021) “Assisted Living vs. Memory Care: Which Is Right for You?”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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