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Category: Elder Law

estate planning for a second marriage

When Do We Need an Elder Law Attorney?

Dealing with a sudden decline in a loved one’s health can be overwhelming. Trauma such as a stroke or a brain injury can cause panic. Kiplinger’s article “When Elder Care Requires Legal Advice” explains that this is when a lot of panicked calls are made to elder law attorneys. These attorneys specialize in planning for the legal complications that can arise in old age. However, seldom do people think to consult one preemptively to avoid making that panicked phone call in the first place. So when do we need an elder law attorney?

Elder law attorneys work in the best interests of the older person, although how that is accomplished may differ. If the senior is competent and contacts the attorney, it can be fairly straightforward. However, if an adult family member or friend is an agent or has power of attorney for an elderly person—and asks for help, the attorney is representing the agent. In any event, anyone who has power of attorney has a fiduciary responsibility to do what is best for the elderly person granting them that authority.

If a power of attorney isn’t in place and the elderly parent is incapable of giving it, the family is required to go to court to have someone appointed as a guardian, which can be a time-consuming option. If a parent is cognitively capable and doesn’t want help, there’s nothing an elder law attorney can do about it.

Although state laws vary, elder law primarily concerns these topics:

  • The client’s wishes and health
  • Family dynamics; and
  • The client’s financial assets and income.

An elder care attorney will also make sure that all important documents are in place and up-to-date, according to state laws. This includes a will, a trust, a power of attorney and an advance directive that includes a health care proxy.

Elder law attorneys also help moderate tough decisions, like when family members can’t agree about how a loved one wanted to be buried.

In addition, elder care lawyers understand the complex laws for Medicaid and VA benefits. An elder care lawyer can speak to many other issues, ranging from long-term care insurance to capital gains taxes.

A key when meeting with an elder law attorney is that you feel comfortable, that you’re not rushed and that your questions are answered.

If you would like to learn more about elder law and how best to select an elder law attorney, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 15, 2020) “When Elder Care Requires Legal Advice”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

How Does Guardianship Work?

For the most part, we are free to make our own decisions regarding how we live, where we live, how we spend our money and even with whom we socialize. However, when we are no longer capable of caring for ourselves, most commonly due to advancing age or dementia, or if an accident or illness occurs and we can’t manage our affairs, it may be necessary to seek a guardianship, as explained in the recent article “Legal Corner: A guardian can be a helpful tool in cases of incapacity” from The Westerly Sun. A guardianship is also necessary for the care of a child or adult with special needs. So how does guardianship work?

If no proper estate planning has been done and no one has been given power of attorney or health care power of attorney, a guardianship may be necessary. This is a legal relationship where one person, ideally a responsible, capable and caring person known as a guardian, is given the legal power to manage the needs of a ward, the person who cannot manage their own affairs. This is usually supported through a court process, requires a medical assessment and comes before the probate court for a hearing.

Once the guardian is qualified and appointed by the court, they have the authority to oversee everything about the ward’s life. They have power over the ward’s money and how it is spent, health care decisions, residential issues and even with whom the ward spends time. At its essence, a guardianship is akin to a parent-child relationship.

Guardianships can be tailored by the court to meet the specific needs of the ward in each case, with the guardian’s powers either limited or expanded, as needed and as appropriate.

The guardian must report to the court on a yearly basis about the ward’s health and health care and file an annual accounting of what has been done with the ward’s money and how much money remains. The court supervision is intended to protect the ward from mismanagement of their finances and ensure that the guardianship is still needed and maintained on an annual basis.

The relationship between the ward and the guardian is often a close one and can continue for many years. The guardianship ends upon the death of the ward, the resignation or removal of the guardian, or in cases of temporary illness or incapacity, when the ward recovers and is once again able to handle their own affairs and make health care decisions on their own.

If and when an elderly family member can no longer manage their own lives, guardianship is a way to step in and care for them, if no prior estate planning has been done. It is preferable for an estate plan to be created and for powers of attorney be created, but in its absence, this is an option.

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

Reference: The Westerly Sun (Sep. 19, 2020) “Legal Corner: A guardian can be a helpful tool in cases of incapacity”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

A Letter of Instruction is a Good Addition

A letter of instruction, or LOI, is a good addition to your estate plan. It’s commonly used to express advice, wishes and practical information to help the people who will be taking care of your affairs, if you become incapacitated or die. According to this recent article “Letter of instruction in elder law estate plan can help with managing important information” from the Times Herald-Record, there are many different ways an LOI can help.

In our digital world, you might want to use your LOI to record website names, usernames and passwords for social media accounts, online accounts and other digital assets. This helps loved ones who you want to have access to your online life.

If you have minor children who are beneficiaries, the LOI is a good way to share your priorities to the trustee on your wishes for the funds left for their care. It is common to leave money in trust for HEMS—for “Health, Education, Maintenance and Support.” However, you may want to be more specific, both about how money is to be spent and to share your thoughts about the path you’d like their lives to take in your absence.

Art collectors or anyone who owns valuable items, like musical instruments, antiques or collectibles may use the LOI as an inventory that will be greatly appreciated by your executor. By providing a carefully created list of the items and any details, you’ll increase the likelihood that the collections will be considered by a potential purchaser. This would also be a good place to include any resources about the collections that you know of, but your heirs may not, like appraisers.

Animal lovers can use an LOI to share personalities, likes, dislikes and behavioral quirks of beloved pets, so their new caregivers will be better prepared. In most states, a pet trust can be created to name a caregiver and a trustee for funds that are designated for the pet’s care. The caregiver and the trustee may be the same person, or they may be two different individuals.

For families who have a special needs member, an LOI is a useful means of sharing important information about the person and is often referred to as a “Letter of Intent.” It works in tandem with a Special Needs Trust, which is created to leave assets to a person who receives government benefits without putting means-tested benefits in jeopardy. If there is no Special Needs Trust and the person receives an inheritance, they could lose access to their benefits.

Some of the information in a Letter of Intent includes information on the nature of the disability, daily routines, medications, fears, preferred activities and anything that would help a caregiver provide better care, if the primary caregiver dies.

The LOI can also be used to provide basic information, like where important documents are kept, who should be notified in case of death or incapacity, which bills should be paid, what home maintenance tasks need to be taken care of and who provides the services, etc. A letter of instruction is a useful document and a good addition to your estate plan. It will help those you leave behind to adjust to their new responsibilities and care for loved ones.

If you would like to learn more about what should be included in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Sep. 8, 2020) “Letter of instruction in elder law estate plan can help with managing important information”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

Life Changes Mean Changes For Your Estate

Federal News Network’s recent article entitled “Divorced, kids grown, moving? Time for a pre-checkout checkup!” says life changes mean changes for your estate, like when your children grow up and leave the home.

Let’s review some of the key components of a complete estate plan.

A basic estate plan includes powers or attorney and some mechanism for distributing your assets, in the event of death.

If you become seriously ill or injured, perhaps even in a vegetative state, you should let your family and the hospital know if you want heroic measures to be taken to keep you alive.

An advance medical directive, also known as a health care power of attorney, is essential. This document addresses two important issues. It designates an individual that you select to make health care decisions for you, if you’re unable to make these decisions for yourself.

It also includes end of life instructions (called a living will) that details what actions you wish to have taken on your behalf if you are terminally ill, in a vegetative state and if you are unlikely to recover. For example, many living wills discuss whether to be kept alive by artificial means, such as with the use of a ventilator.

Another important tool in any estate plan is a general durable financial power of attorney. This lets your agent manage your financial affairs, if you’re incapable of managing them on your own.

When most people think of estate planning, they think about a will.

While a will is very important, most people have many assets that will not be impacted by their wills. This includes assets such as jointly owned property, and assets for which a beneficiary is designated, like life insurance, TSP and annuities.

The important point to know is that everyone needs to state exactly how they want to have their assets distributed following their death. This can be via a will, a trust, or by beneficiary designations. Many different events will shape your life and these changes mean you need to keep changing and updating your estate plan to keep up.

If you would like to learn more about estate planning and the different options available to you, please read our previous posts. 

Reference: Federal News Network (August 31, 2020) “Divorced, kids grown, moving? Time for a pre-checkout checkup!”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

What Is Involved with Serving as an Executor?

What is involved with serving as an executor? Serving as the executor of a relative’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a lot of work, says The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times’ recent article entitled “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate.”

As an executor of a will, you’re tasked with settling her affairs after she dies. This may sound rather easy, but you should be aware that the job can be time consuming and difficult, depending on the complexity of the decedent’s financial and family situation. Here are some of the required duties:

  • Filing court papers to initiate the probate process
  • Taking inventory of the decedent’s estate
  • Using the decedent’s estate funds to pay bills, taxes, and funeral costs
  • Taking care of canceling her credit cards and informing banks and government offices like Social Security and the post office of her death
  • Readying and filing her final income tax returns; and
  • Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.

Every state has specific laws and deadlines for an executor’s responsibilities. To help you better understand what is involved with serving as an executor, work with an experienced estate planning attorney and take note of these reminders:

Get organized. Make certain that the decedent has an updated will and locate all her important documents and financial information. Quickly having access to her deeds, brokerage statements and insurance policies after she dies, will save you a lot of time and effort. With a complex estate, you may want to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help you through the process. The estate will pay that expense.

Avoid conflicts. Investigate to see if there are any conflicts between the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. If there are some potential issues, you can make your job as executor much easier, if everyone knows in advance who’s getting what, and the decedent’s rationale for making those decisions. Ask your aunt to tell her beneficiaries what they can expect, even with her personal items because last wills often leave it up to the executor to distribute heirlooms. If there’s no distribution plan for personal property, she should write one.

Executor fees. You’re entitled to an executor’s fees paid by the estate. In most states, executors are allowed to take a percentage of the estate’s value, which can be from 1-5%, depending on the size of the estate. However, if you’re a beneficiary, it may make sense for you to forgo the fee because fees are taxable, and it could cause rancor among the other beneficiaries.

If you are interested in learning about the role of a beneficiary in an estate plan, please view our previous posts.

Reference: The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times (Aug. 19, 2020) “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

Adult Guardianship and Autistic Children

For parents of autistic children, the coming of an 18th birthday is the time when hard decisions need to be made regarding adult guardianship. It allows parents to continue to make important decisions for their child, but it does severely limit the child’s rights and freedoms. State laws often require that less restrictive alternatives be considered before a guardianship is ordered, says the article “Adulthood And Autism: A Crossroads In Life” from Autism Key.com.

An adult guardianship is a court proceeding that appoints another person to make decisions about a person’s health, safety, support, care and residence. The procedure varies from state to state.  However, the process generally starts with an interested party filing a petition, with the court stating why guardianship for the person, known as the “ward,” is necessary. The person who has filed for guardianship and others, including parents, spouses, or relatives, all receive a copy of the petition. An independent evaluator assesses the ward and reports on their capacity. There is a hearing and the court determines whether guardianship is needed. The ward has the right to hire counsel, or the court can provide counsel.

Once the guardian is appointed, the court may limit or completely terminate the ward’s ability to make decisions regarding medical treatment, where they live and other important decisions. The guardian is required to make decisions that are always in the best interest of their ward and to encourage the ward to participate in decisions. A report must be filed with the court every year to advise of the ward’s status.

Most states have a law known as the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act, which makes it easier for states to transfer guardianship from one state to another, if the person moves. Florida, Kansas, Texas and Michigan do not have this law.

Adult Guardianship is an emotional decision for parents to make. They want their autistic child to be protected, at the same time they hope their child can reach a certain level of independence, within the limits of their capacity.

An individual facing a guardianship petition has the right to an attorney and in some states, that attorney must advocate for the best interest of the person, which may be to have more independence.

A case involving a young woman with Down’s Syndrome named Jenny Hatch in 2013 led to changes in guardianship proceedings. Jenny was a high school graduate, worked at a thrift shop and volunteered in local political campaigns. At her parent’s request, a court put her into temporary guardianship and placed her in a group home, where her cell phone and laptop were taken away. She was not permitted to socialize with friends or go to work. After a year of litigation, she won the right to make her own decisions through Supported Decision-Making, a process in which a team of allies help the disabled to make key decisions about their life. Jenny became a national hero for the rights of the disabled and speaks publicly about her experience. A number of states now have Supported Decision-Making laws to give the disabled freedom, while providing them with a network of support.

There is a lot of information to consider as a parent facing the prospect of an ASD child becoming a legal adult. Each person has his or her own strengths and challenges. Review the laws of your state to consider what options there may be, in addition to guardianship.

If you would like to learn more about adult guardianship and other issues related to autism, please read our previous posts. 

Reference: Autism Key.com (July 28, 2020) “Guardianship And Autism: A Crossroads In Life”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

Finding The Right Elder Law Attorney

Elder law attorneys specialize in legal affairs that uniquely concern seniors and their adult children, says Explosion’s recent article entitled “The Complete Guide to Elder Law” Finding the right elder law attorney can be a big task. However, with the right tips, you can find an experienced elder law attorney who is knowledgeable, has the right connections and fits your budget.

While, technically, a general practice attorney will be able to handle your retirement, Medicaid and even your estate planning, an elder law lawyer is deeply entrenched in elder law. This means he or she will have extensive knowledge and experience to handle any case within the scope of elder law, like the following:

  • Retirement planning
  • Long-term care planning and insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Estate planning
  • Social Security
  • Veterans’ benefits; and
  • Other related areas of law.

While a general practice lawyer may be able to help you with one or two of these areas, a competent elder law lawyer knows that there’s no single formula in elder law that applies across the board. That’s why you’ll need a lawyer with a high level of specialization and understanding to handle your specific circumstances. An elder law attorney is best suited for your specific needs.

A referral from someone you trust is a great place to start. When conducting your elder law lawyer search, stay away from attorneys who charge for their services by the hour. For example, if you need an elder law attorney to work on a Medicaid issue, they should be able to give you an estimate of the charges after reviewing your case. That one-time flat fee will cover everything, including any legal costs, phone calls, meetings and court fees.

When it comes to elder law attorneys, nothing says more than experience. An experienced elder law lawyer has handled many cases similar to yours and understands how to proceed. Reviewing the lawyer’s credentials at the state bar website is a great place to start to make sure the lawyer in question is licensed. The website also has information on any previous ethical violations.

In your search for an elder law attorney, look for a good fit and a high level of comfort. Elder law is a complex area of law that requires knowledge and experience. To learn more about Elder law issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Explosion (Aug. 19, 2020) “The Complete Guide to Elder Law”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

What Is a Caregiver Agreement?

What is a caregiver agreement? The idea that a family member or trusted friend may be paid to take care of an aging parent or sibling is a welcome one. However, most family members don’t understand the legal complexity involved in privately paying for care, says the recent article “Paying a family member for care” from The Times Herald. Payments made to a family caregiver or a private caregiver can lead to a world of trouble from Medicaid and the IRS.

This is why attorneys create caregiver agreements for clients. The concept is that the care and services provided by a relative or friend would otherwise be performed by an outside person at whatever the going rates are within the person’s community. The payment should be considered a fully compensated transfer for Medicaid eligibility purposes and should not result in any penalty being imposed if it is done correctly.

This is more likely to be avoided with a formal written caregiver agreement. In some states, like Pennsylvania, a caregiver agreement is required to be sure that the payments made to the caregiver are not deemed to be a gift under Medicare rules.

The caregiver agreement must outline the services that are being provided and the rate of pay, which can be in the form of weekly, monthly or a lump sum payment. This is where it gets sticky: that payment should not be higher than what an outside provider would be paid. An excessively high payment would trigger a red flag for Medicaid and could be viewed as a gift.

Medicaid has a five-year look back period, where the applicant’s finances are examined to see if there were efforts to minimize the person’s financial assets to qualify for Medicaid. If any transfers of property or assets are made that are higher than fair market value, it’s possible that it will be viewed as creating a period of ineligibility. That is why it’s so important to have a contract or written agreement in place, when a family member or other person is hired to provide those services and is paid privately.

There are also income tax consequences. The caregiver is considered a household employee by the IRS. They are not considered to be an independent contractor and should not be issued a 1099 to reflect their payment. If that is done, it could be considered to be tax evasion.

Speak with an estate planning attorney about crafting a caregiving agreement and how to handle the tax issue, when privately paying for care. They will help avoid putting Medicaid eligibility in jeopardy, as well as avoiding problems with the IRS.

Reference: The Times Herald (Aug. 13, 2020) “Paying a family member for care”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

What Is a Testamentary Trust?

What is a testamentary trust? It is a legal document that’s part of your will. It goes into effect after your death. This trust holds property for your heirs’ benefit and comes into effect when three criteria are met:

  • the testator has died
  • the will goes through probate; and
  • and the terms of the trust are still relevant.

US News and World Report’s recent article entitled How Do I Create A Testamentary Trust? explains that a frequent reason to create a testamentary trust, is to provide for your children after your death.

Testamentary trusts are not the same as living trusts. Those trusts become effective while you’re still alive. The main purpose of a living trust is to allow assets within the trust to avoid the legal proceedings associated with administering the will in the probate process.

With a testamentary trust, assets are transferred to the trust at your death through your will. As a result, they’re subject to probate proceedings.

A living trust can be revocable. That means it can be modified at any time. There’s also an irrevocable trust, which means that it can’t be changed once it’s finalized. A testamentary trust can be changed up, until the creator’s death.

A testamentary trust is often used when the creator has minor children and wants to provide some financial control over the assets, if both parents die while the children are minors. It can arrange management of those assets by a trustee.

You can also employ a testamentary trust for Medicaid planning. State law has a lot to do with how this works, so it is best to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney or elder law attorney.

Generally speaking, if you have a beneficiary who needs Medicaid government benefits, a supplemental needs trust or Medicaid trust can help the beneficiary afford needed expenses, without disqualifying them from the program’s benefits.

Note that Medicaid benefits are available to people who own few assets and eligibility is income-based.

If you would like to learn more about the different types of trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: US News and World Report (Aug. 6, 20201) “How Do I Create A Testamentary Trust?”

 

estate planning for a second marriage

Better Plan than a Reverse Mortgage?

If you’re 62 or older, one way to get a bit more cash, is to use the equity in your home in a reverse mortgage. It’s a type of loan that allows you to borrow against the equity in your home and receive a set monthly payment or line of credit (or a combination of the two). The repayment is deferred until you move out, sell the home, become delinquent on property taxes or insurance, the home falls into disrepair, or you pass away. At that point, the house is sold and any excess funds after repayment belong to you or your heirs. Is there a better plan than a reverse mortgage?

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Alternatives to a Reverse Mortgage” explains that reverse mortgages can be troublesome, if you don’t set it up right. They also require careful consideration for the rights of the surviving spouse, if you’re married. Ultimately, with a reverse mortgage, you or your heirs give up your home, unless you’re able to buy it back from the bank. There are some less than stellar reverse mortgage companies out there, so it can be risky.

There are a few other ways to generate cash for your living expenses in retirement.

Refinance Your Mortgage. You may be able to refinance your existing mortgage to lower your monthly payments and free up some cash. It’s wise to lower the interest rate on your mortgage, which can save you money over the life of the loan, decrease the size of your monthly payments and help you build equity in your home more quickly. If you refinance rather than going with a reverse mortgage, your home remains as an asset for you and your heirs.

Get a Home-Equity Loan. This loan or second mortgage allows you to borrow money against the equity in your home. Note that the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act restricted the eligibility for a home-equity loan interest deduction. For tax years 2018 through 2025, you won’t be able to deduct home-equity loan interest, unless the loan is used specifically for qualified purposes. Like refinancing, your home remains an asset for you and your heirs. Remember that because your home is collateral, there’s a risk of foreclosure, if you default on the loan.

Use a Home Equity Line of Credit. A home-equity line of credit (HELOC) lets you borrow up to your approved credit limit on an as-needed basis. Unlike a home-equity loan, where you pay interest on the entire loan amount whether you’re using the money or not, with a HELOC you pay interest only on the amount of money you actually take out. These are adjustable loans, so your monthly payment will change with fluctuating interest rates.

Downsize. The options previously discussed let you keep your existing home. However, if you’re willing and able to move, selling your home allows you to tap into your equity. Many people downsize, because they’re in a home that’s much larger than they need without children around. Your current home also may be too difficult or costly to maintain. When you sell, you can use the proceeds to purchase a smaller, more affordable home or you might just rent, and you’ll have extra money to save, invest or spend as you want.

Sell Your Home to Your Children. Another alternative to a reverse mortgage, is to sell your home to your children. You might think about a sale-leaseback. In this situation, you’d sell the house, then rent it back using the cash from the sale. As landlords, your children get rental income and can take deductions for depreciation, real estate taxes and maintenance. You could also consider a private reverse mortgage. This works like a reverse mortgage, except the interest and fees stay in the family: your children make regular payments to you, and when it’s time to sell the house, they recoup their contributions (and interest).

Reverse mortgages may be a decent option for people who are house rich and cash poor, with lots of home equity but not enough income for retirement. However, this article lays out some other options, that let you to tap into the equity you’ve built up in your home. Before making any decisions, do some research on your options, shop around for the best rates (where applicable) and speak with an experienced elder law attorney. To learn more about how you can protect your home and other assets, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2020) “Alternatives to a Reverse Mortgage”