Category: Elder Law

Older Singles need to Plan for the Unexpected

Older Singles need to Plan for the Unexpected

The U.S. Census Bureau reports nearly a third of all seniors live alone—about 14 million—some of whom don’t have children or anyone to care for them if they need help. However, according to a recent article from Forbes, “Essentials for the Solo Ager,” everything is fine until there’s a problem. This is especially true when the solo ager’s friends are all about the same age and in the same situation. Older singles need to plan for the unexpected.

One financial adviser asked an estate planning attorney to contact a client who was 88, living alone, still driving and maintaining her own home. She had an inadequate estate plan done for free by a volunteer at her senior center and needed a Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney. In addition, her only living relative lived outside of the United States, and the person she relied upon was a 90-year-old, legally blind neighbor. All of this had worked fine for years, but at 88, she was highly vulnerable.

Here are some options for solo agers to consider while planning constructively for the future:

Consider naming a fiduciary to handle finances in your estate plan, which an experienced estate planning attorney should prepare.

Healthcare decisions are often a minefield for someone who is cognitively or physically impaired and unable to make decisions. Some professionals can be named as your healthcare agent, preferably someone who knows the healthcare system and can advocate for you if you are incapacitated. In addition, a healthcare power of attorney would be needed.

Make your wishes and preferences clear in your estate planning documents, so someone who does not know you well can follow your specific directions and fulfill your wishes.

Give up the idea of being 100% well until you pass. Most seniors unfortunately experience one or more health challenges and need more assistance than they ever imagined. Be realistic and identify younger adults who will be able to help you and give them the legal tools to do so. If they never need to help you, fantastic, but if they do, you’ll be glad to have their help.

Single people are independent and self-reliant and take pride in these characteristics. This is great.  However, there comes a time when none of us can be independent. No one likes to think about losing their independence or becoming disabled. However, planning will keep you safer rather than hoping for the best.

Older singles need to plan for the unexpected. Meet with an experienced estate planning attorney who will help you plan for your future. If you would like to learn more about aging in place, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (March 26, 2023) “Essentials for the Solo Ager”

 

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Planning for Long-Term Care with Irrevocable Trusts

Planning for Long-Term Care with Irrevocable Trusts

One of the best strategies to plan for long-term care involves using an irrevocable trust. However, the word “irrevocable” makes people a little wary. It shouldn’t. Planning for long-term care with irrevocable trusts can provide peace of mind for your family. The use of the Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust, a type of irrevocable trust, provides both protection and flexibility, explains the article “Despite the name, irrevocable trusts provide flexibility” from The News-Enterprise.

Trusts are created by an estate planning attorney for each individual and their circumstances. Therefore, the provisions in one kind of trust may not be appropriate for another person, even when the situation appears to be the same on the surface. The flexibility provisions explored here are commonly used in Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts, referred to as IDGTs.

Can the grantor change beneficiaries in an IDGT? The grantor, the person setting up the trust, can reserve a testamentary power of appointment, a special right allowing grantors to change after-death beneficiaries.

This power can also hold the trust assets in the grantors’ taxable estate, allowing for the stepped-up tax basis on appreciated property.

Depending on how the trust is created, the grantor may only have the right to change beneficiaries for a portion or all of the property. If the grantor wants to change beneficiaries, they must make that change in their will.

Can money or property from the trust be removed if needed later? IDGT trusts should always include both lifetime beneficiaries and after-death beneficiaries. After death, beneficiaries receive a share of assets upon the grantor’s death when the estate is distributed. Lifetime beneficiaries have the right to receive property during the grantor’s lifetime.

While grantors may retain the right to receive income from the trust, lifetime beneficiaries can receive the principal. This is particularly important if the trust includes a liquid account that needs to be gifted to the beneficiary to assist a parent.

The most important aspect? The lifetime beneficiary may receive the property and not the grantor. The beneficiary can then use the gifted property to help a parent.

An often-asked question of estate planning attorneys concerns what would happen if tax laws changed in the future. It’s a reasonable question.

If an irrevocable trust needs a technical change, the trust must go before a court to determine if the change can be made. However, most estate planning attorneys include a trust protector clause within the trust to maintain privacy and expediency.

A trust protector is a third party who is neither related nor subordinate to the grantor, serves as a fiduciary, and can sign off on necessary changes. Trust protectors serve as “fixers” and are used to ensure that the trust can operate as the grantors intended. They are not frequently used, but they offer flexibility for legislative changes.

Planning for long-term care with irrevocable trusts is an excellent way to protect assets with both protection and flexibility in mind. If you would like to learn more about long-term care planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The News-Enterprise (March 18, 2023) “Despite the name, irrevocable trusts provide flexibility”

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Qualified Disability Trust can reduce Tax Burden

Qualified Disability Trust can reduce Tax Burden

A qualified disability trust can help reduce the tax burden associated with special needs trusts. A qualified disability trust, or QDisT, qualifies for tax exemptions and applies to most trusts created for an individual with special needs. In most cases, explains a recent article from Investopedia, “Qualified Disability Trust: Meaning and Tax Requirements,” the person receiving income from the trust must pay income tax. However, in 2003, the IRS added a section allowing some disability trusts to reduce this tax liability. This is another example of why reviewing estate plans every few years is important.

Trusts need to meet several requirements to be considered qualified disability trusts for tax purposes. However, if a special needs trust meets these criteria, it could save a lot in taxes.

Most special needs trusts already meet the requirement to be treated as qualified disability trusts and can be reported as such at tax time. For 2022 tax year, the tax exemption for a QDisT is $4,400. For tax year 2023, the amount will increase to $4,700. Income from a QDisT is reported on IRS Form 1041, using an EIN, while distributions to the beneficiary will be taxed on their own 1040 form.

The best way to fully understand a QDisT is through an example. Let’s say a child is diagnosed with a disability, and their grandparents contribute $500,000 to an irrevocable special needs trust the child’s parents have established for the child’s benefit. The trust generates $25,000 in annual income, and $10,000 is used annually for expenses from the child’s care and other needs.

Who pays the income tax bill on the trust’s gains? There are a few options.

The parents could include income from the trust as part of their taxes. This would be “on top” of their earned income, so they will pay their marginal tax on the $25,000 generated from the trust—paying $8,000 or more.

Alternatively, trust income spent for the child’s benefit can be taxed to the child—$10,000, as listed above. This would leave $15,000. However, this must be taxed to the trust. Trust income tax brackets are high and increase steeply. Paying this way could lead to higher taxes than if the parents paid the tax.

The QDisT was designed to alleviate this problem. QDisTs are entitled to the same exemption allowed to all individual taxpayers when filing a tax return. In 2012, for instance, the personal tax exemption was $3,800, so the first $3,800 of income from QDisTs wasn’t taxed.

The deduction for personal exemptions is suspended for tax years 2018 to 2025 by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, except the same law said that in any year there isn’t a personal exemption, the exemption will be allowed for a QDisT.

For tax year 2022, $4,400 is the indexed tax exemption amount for these trusts, including most special needs trusts. For tax year 2023, the amount will increase to $4,700.

To be reported as a qualified disability trust, specific requirements must be met:

  • The trust must be irrevocable.
  • The trust must be established for the sole benefit of the disabled beneficiary.
  • The disabled beneficiary must be under age 65 when the trust is established.
  • The beneficiary must have a disability included in the definition of disabled under the Social Security Act.
  • The trust must be a third-party trust, meaning all funding must come from someone other than the disabled beneficiary.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help set up a qualified disability trust that can help reduce the tax burden and allow you to enjoy the benefits the statute grants. If you would like to learn more about special needs planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Investopedia (March 4, 2023) “Qualified Disability Trust: Meaning and Tax Requirements”

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There are Burial Benefits Available to Veterans

There are Burial Benefits Available to Veterans

There are burial benefits available to veterans through the VA. Only about one in five veterans who died last year were buried free of charge in department or state-run veteran cemeteries. Less than half of individuals eligible for some type of burial or gravesite financial assistance took advantage of the benefit, says Military Times’ recent article entitled, “VA officials work to raise awareness of cemetery, burial services.”

“I want even more veterans and family members to know about and take advantage of the final benefits a veteran earns for their service,” said Matthew Quinn, undersecretary for memorial affairs at the National Cemetery Administration.

“They have the option to choose VA for their final wishes. And we will take care of them and their loved ones in a manner that mirrors their own dedicated service and devotion to our nation, in perpetuity.”

NCA officials are trying to emphasize VA burial services as the U.S. nears the 50th anniversary of the agency assuming control of national veterans cemeteries. There are now 155 such resting places managed by VA and another 121 funded by the department. However, the use of the burial benefits lags behind other well-known VA support services.

Quinn said several factors cause the low usage rate for burial services, including “family wishes” that multiple individuals be interred in the same plot. Only spouses and certain other dependents can be buried with a headstone alongside a veteran in a national cemetery.

However, other assistance — such as free headstones for veterans being interred at private cemeteries and free medallions for existing headstones to denote the deceased individual’s veteran status — are often overlooked because family members and funeral homes aren’t familiar with the benefits.

VA provided about 350,000 headstones for veterans’ graves last year, and another 12,000 medallions.

Quinn said while vets don’t have to use the services, those interested should consider applying before any of the services are needed to ensure they have the options ready.

“Applying for eligibility prior to the veteran’s death ensures that necessary service records are in order, so grieving family members do not have to search for military discharge papers while they are already under great stress,” he said. There are burial benefits available to veterans and your estate planning attorney can help you get the most out of these benefits as a part of your overall planning. If you would like to learn more about burial and funeral planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Military Times (Jan. 24, 2023) “VA officials work to raise awareness of cemetery, burial services”

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Planning to Protect your Pet after Death

Planning to Protect your Pet after Death

Pet trusts and other options are now available to owners to provide for their animals when they can’t—and they’re not just for wealthy people. Planning to protect your pet after your incapacity or death is detailed in a recent article, “6 estate planning tips for pet owners” from Puget Sound Business Journal.

First, address your desired level of care and the annual cost of your pet. Depending on the type of pet, breed, health and diet, costs can vary dramatically. If you have multiple pets, consider which one is most likely to outlive you. What do you spend on food, pet insurance, vet care, medications and supplements? Will your pet require additional care as they age?

Create a list of your preferred veterinarians, groomers, daycare, pet walkers, food, sleeping preferences, treats, toys and any particular information you’d want someone to know if you are unable to tell them.

Name an appropriate trustee and caretaker and be sure they are willing to serve in these roles. Pets are considered property and legally may not own property of their own. If you leave an inheritance to them or name them as beneficiaries, state laws will determine who owns the assets. It won’t be the pet.

To ensure your pet is cared for, people typically designate a caregiver and a trustee. The trustee oversees the finances and is charged with ensuring that funds are used to care for the pet. The caretaker is similar to a custodial parent, and your pet will ideally live with them. Compensation for these roles is common, so factor this into your cost analysis.

Next, put it in writing. If you know your caregiver well and trust they will follow your wishes, you may put your request in your will. Your will disposes of all your property, including your pets, and leaves them to a beneficiary, who is your caretaker. It is important to understand that there is no guarantee or legal enforcement if you go this route. Informal agreements for pet care aren’t much better. If you give your pet to someone when you pass away, they can leave it at a shelter or give it to someone else.

Have your estate planning attorney create a pet trust. This is increasingly common, and not just for eccentric billionaires. Pet trusts were approved in 2000 under Section 408 of the Uniform Trust Code. The trust is a legal entity to plan for the care of your pet.

Make sure that your documents are reviewed every few years to be sure they reflect your wishes. This is especially true if you relocate or if caregivers pass away.

Fund your pet trust. This is the process of transferring assets into the trust, so the trustee can distribute them to the caregiver. Once the trust is created, it should be funded, even if you don’t expect to die tomorrow. Your estate planning attorney can discuss ways of funding the trust upon your death if you wish.

Provide directions for any remaining funds after your pet dies. If your beloved Woof passes shortly after you, what would you want to happen to the remaining funds? Beneficiaries could be an individual, a group, or an organization. It’s generally not recommended to leave the remaining funds to the caregiver or trustee—you don’t want to give them a reason to artificially shorten the pet’s life or provide bad care.

Estate planning for pets can easily be overlooked. However, if you are a pet parent, you’ll feel better knowing you’ve done the planning to protect your pet after your death, so they’ll enjoy a long and happy life, even in your absence. If you would like to learn more about pet protection, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Puget Sound Business Journal (March 2, 2023) “6 estate planning tips for pet owners”

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What are the Responsibilities of a Legal Guardian?

What are the Responsibilities of a Legal Guardian?

When a person is impaired by physical or mental illness or another kind of disability and they haven’t had a legal power of attorney or health care power of attorney created, they may need a court appointed guardian to act on their behalf. So what are the responsibilities of a legal guardian?

As explained in a recent article titled “Legal Guardians” from My Prime Time News, for the court to find the “protected person” in need of a guardian, it must find the protected person unable to receive or evaluate information or both, unable to make or communicate decisions to satisfy essential requirements for physical health, safety or self-care.

The guardian may receive the protected person’s income, such as Social Security, and pay bills. In some states, a conservator is appointed when someone has considerable assets requiring active management.

If a protected person needs help with the tasks of daily living and asset management, the court may appoint both a guardian and a conservator. One person may serve in both roles, unless the person is a “professional caretaker.”

In almost all cases, it is far better to have a plan for incapacity in place, with a trusted and known person named to serve as an agent to handle financial and legal matters, and the same or another person named to act as a health care proxy.

To be appointed a guardian, a petition must be filed with the court and any interested persons must be notified of the petition. This includes spouse, parents, adult children, other caretakers and the treating physician. The petition must include a letter from a doctor indicating the need for a guardianship.

The process varies in different jurisdictions. However, the court usually requires a background check and a credit report for the person petitioning for guardianship. The court appoints a visitor to investigate and report whether an appointment for the guardian is necessary and if the person petitioning for the role of guardian is suitable.

After all this has been completed, a hearing takes place, with the protected person present. The court will make its decision. If the decision is to award the guardianship, the court issues Letters of Appointment and an Order, unless the protected person protests. The order requires the guardian and/or conservator to file annual reports with the court.

The guardian’s responsibility varies with the circumstances. The guardian’s powers should generally be no greater than needed to see to the needs of the protected person. The protected person should be encouraged to maintain the greatest degree of independence under their circumstances. While the guardian is not required to take physical care of the protected person, they are responsible for ensuring the protected person has an appropriate level of care, whether in a nursing home, assisted living or other institutional care.

The guardian’s appointment ends when the protected person dies, or if the guardian dies or if the court issues an order terminating their guardianship. Your estate planning or elder law attorney can help explain what the responsibilities of a legal guardian are and how to begin the process. If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: My Prime Time News (Jan. 1, 2023) “Legal Guardians”

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Documents needed for Advance Care Planning

Documents needed for Advance Care Planning

Starting discussions earlier helps ensure that a person with dementia stays involved and understands the planning process. In the same fashion, regular reviews of plans over time are beneficial for ensuring that their wishes are carried out. There are a few essential documents needed for advance care planning that you need to have included.

Health News’ recent article entitled “Can Someone With Dementia Sign Legal Documents?” cautions that, when family members don’t know the preferences of their loved one, they have difficulties and stress in making decisions. Family members may also have feelings of guilt, self-doubt and stress while making advanced care decisions.

Laws in each state may differ. Working with an experienced elder law attorney can help seniors interpret state laws, plan how wishes should be carried out and understand financial options.

Geriatric care managers, trained social workers, or nurses can also offer support to those living with dementia, as well as their families.

While advance care planning, families and their loved ones with dementia should create a plan for long-term care and plan for funeral arrangements in advance.

Advance care planning documents commonly include the following:

  • A durable power of attorney for healthcare names someone to function as a proxy for the person with dementia, when he or she may be unable to make healthcare decisions for themselves.
  • A living will includes an individual’s wishes for end-of-life treatment. This can concern specific procedures such as dialysis, tubal feeding, or blood transfusion. If the person becomes permanently unconscious (coma), families can make treatment decisions based on wishes expressed in a living will.
  • A do-not-resuscitate order (DNR) is put with a patient’s chart when the patient doesn’t want to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if their heart stops or breathing ceases. A doctor needs to sign these DNR orders before they can be placed in the patient’s charts.

Advance care planning can be a sensitive topic for families and those with dementia.

Getting medical and legal advice early is helpful in planning advance care. Involving the person with dementia in the planning process also helps families ensure that the wishes of the patient are respected. Work with your estate planning attorney to ensure these needed documents for advance care planning are included in your overall planning. If you would like to learn more about advance care planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Health News (Jan. 11, 2023) “Can Someone With Dementia Sign Legal Documents?”

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How the Guardianship Process Works

How the Guardianship Process Works

For family members of the estimated 6.5 million dementia patients in the U.S., it is crucial to understand whether guardianship may be an option for their loved one. A recent article from Next Avenue titled “Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?” explains how the guardianship process works and what factors go into the decision-making process.

Guardianship is the position of being responsible for someone else. State courts usually appoint a guardian to make decisions for a person, if the court finds that person to be incapacitated or unable to make safe and reasonable decisions for themselves. People who are placed under guardianship, known as “wards,” often lose their independence in making financial, legal and health care decisions.

If full guardianship is awarded, the person cannot make decisions about whether they may vote, marry, where they live, or make their own end-of-life decisions.

Two tasks that are evaluated when considering guardianship are a person’s ability to manage personal finances and to take medications as prescribed.

The court may call on a geriatrician or psychiatrist to evaluate the person’s functional behavior, cognitive function, disabling conditions and ability to meet their essential needs.

There are benefits to guardianship for someone who is not able to care for themselves. It ideally creates a safety net for a person who cannot make informed decisions for themselves.

this, of course, assumes that the guardian is honest and accountable, which is not always the case. The inconsistencies plaguing the guardianship system include minimum standards for guardians, lack of regular independent reviews of the need for guardianship and lack of educational requirements for guardians.

Once guardianship is assigned, there is a tendency for the person to become lost when no follow-up is done. The very same person who lacks capacity to care for themselves is not going to be able to advocate for themselves, contact an attorney or access funds for court proceedings.

There is also a tendency to assign full guardianship for a person, rather than less restrictive alternatives.

There are alternatives, but they require planning and discussion. More than 40% of Americans have not discussed their wishes for end-of-life care with their loved ones, according to an article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Families should have a conversation at the first sign of memory loss or when preparing for retirement regarding wishes for end-of-life care and write them down as part of an Advanced Directive—also known as a Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney—when preparing their estate plan.

Another important document, although not legally binding, is a “Value History,” where you share your values and beliefs as they may impact care choices.

Designate a Power of Attorney and list two or even three back-up candidates. This person will be responsible for financial, legal and personal matters, avoiding the need for guardianship.

Appointing a family member or friend as a guardian is the ideal solution. However, there are instances when the best person to be a guardian is not a family member, but a court-appointed outsider. This relieves the family of being the ones who need to inform a person suffering from dementia with the news of having to move into a nursing home facility or sifting through financial records to learn that the family home is in foreclosure. The family can focus on being supportive and loving, while the guardian deals with the sometimes harsh realities of the person’s life.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn about how the guardianship process works, and whether it may be the right move for your family. If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Next Avenue (Dec. 23, 2022) “Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?”

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Qualified Charitable Distributions Reduce Tax Burden

Qualified Charitable Distributions Reduce Tax Burden

Assets held in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are unquestionably the best assets to gift to charity, since IRAs are loaded with taxes. One way to relieve this tax burden is by using the IRA for charitable giving during your lifetime, says a recent article, “Giving funds in IRAs to charity with QCDs,” from Investment News. Qualified charitable distributions can help reduce your tax burden.

Most people who give to charity don’t receive the taxable benefit because they don’t itemize deductions. They instead use the higher standard deduction, which offers no extra tax deduction for charitable giving.

Older taxpayers are more likely to use the standard deduction, since taxpayers aged 65 and older receive an extra standard deduction. In 2022, the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly when each of the spouses are 65 and older is $28,700. The exceptions are couples with large medical expenses or those who make large charitable gifts.

Here’s where the IRA for charitable giving comes in. IRAs normally may not be given to charity or anyone in the owner’s life (except in the case of divorce). There is one exception: giving IRAs to charity with a QCD.

The QCD is a direct transfer of traditional IRA funds to a qualified charity. The QCD is an exclusion from income, which reduces Adjusted Gross Income. AGI is the most significant number on the tax return because it determines the availability of many tax deductions, credits and other benefits. Lowering AGI with a QCD could also work to reduce “stealth” taxes–taxes on Social Security benefits or Medicare premium surcharges.

QCDs are limited to $100,000 per person, per year (not per IRA). They can also satisfy RMDs up to the $100,000, but only if the timing is right.

There are some limitations to discuss with your estate planning attorney. For instance, QCDs are only available to IRA owners who are 70 ½ or older. They can only be made once you turn age 70 ½, not anytime in the year you turn 70 ½. The difference matters.

QCDs are not available from 401(k) or other employer plans. They also aren’t allowed for gifts to Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) and private foundations, and they can’t be made from active SEP or SIMPLE IRAs, where contributions are still being made.

Appreciated stocks can also be gifted to qualified charities and itemized deductions taken for the fair market value of the stock, if it was held for more than one year. There’s no tax on appreciation, as there would be if the stock were sold instead of gifted.

There are some tax traps to consider, including the SECURE Act, which allows traditional IRAs to be made after age 70 ½. However, it pairs the provision with a poison pill. If the IRA deduction is taken in the same year as a QCD, or any year before the QCD, the QCD tax exclusion could be reduced or lost. This can be avoided by making Roth IRA contributions instead of tax-deductible IRA contributions after age 70 ½.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about whether using qualified charitable distributions to help reduce your tax burden makes sense for your estate planning and tax situation. If you would like to learn more about charitable giving, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Investment News (Dec. 9, 2022) “Giving funds in IRAs to charity with QCDs”

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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 Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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