Category: Medical Directives

A second marriage can complicated estate planning

A Second Marriage can complicate Estate Planning

In first marriages, working together to raise children can solidify a marriage. However, in a second marriage, the adult children are in a different position altogether. If important estate planning issues are not addressed, the relationship between the siblings and the new spouses can have serious consequences, according to a recent article titled “Into the Breach; Getting Married Again?” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A second marriage can complicated estate planning.

Chief among the issues center on inheritances and financial matters, especially if one of the parties has the bulk of the income and the assets. How will the household expenses be shared? Should they be divided equally, even if one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other?

Other concerns involve real estate. If both parties own their own homes, in which house will they live? Will the other home be used for rental income or sold? Will both names be on the title for the primary residence?

Planning for incapacity also becomes more complex. If a 90-year-old man marries a 79-year-old woman, will his children or his spouse be named as agents (i.e., attorneys in fact) under his Power of Attorney if he is incapacitated? Who will make healthcare decisions for the 79-year-old spouse—her children or her 90-year-old husband?

There are so many different situations and family dynamics to consider. Will a stepdaughter end up making the decision to withdraw artificial feeding for an elderly stepmother, if the stepmother’s own children cannot be reached in a timely manner? If stepsiblings do not get along and critical decisions need to be made, can they set aside their differences to act in their collective parent’s best interests?

The matter of inheritances for second and subsequent marriages often becomes the pivot point for family discord. If the family has not had an estate plan created with an experienced estate planning attorney who understands the complexities of multiple marriages, then the battles between stepchildren can become nasty and expensive.

Do not discount the impact of the spouses of adult children. If you have a stepchild whose partner feels they have been wronged by the parent, they could bring a world of trouble to an otherwise amicable group.

The attorney may recommend the use of trusts to ensure the assets of the first spouse to die eventually make their way to their own children, while ensuring the surviving spouse has income during their lifetime. There are several trusts designed to accomplish this exact scenario, including one known as SLAT—Spousal Lifetime Access Trust.

Discussions about health care proxies and power of attorney should take place well before they are needed. Ideally, all members of the family can gather peacefully for discussions while their parents are living, to avoid surprises. If the relationships are rocky, a group discussion may not be possible and parents and adult children may need to meet for one-on-one discussions. However, the conversations still need to take place.

A second marriage can complicated estate planning. Second marriages at any age and stage need to have a prenuptial and an estate plan in place before the couple walks down the aisle to say, “I do…again.” If you would like to learn more about blended families and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (March 1, 2022) “Into the Breach; Getting Married Again?”

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Caring for sick Parent can be Challenging

Caring for sick Parent can be Challenging

Caring for a sick parent can be challenging and emotional time. It’s not uncommon for adult children to have to face a parent’s decline and a stay in hospice at the end of their life. The children are tasked with trying to prepare for his passing. This includes how to handle his financial matters.

Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “How do I handle my father’s financial matters now that he’s in hospice?” says that because of this major task, it is easy to put financial considerations on the back burner. Nonetheless, it is important to address a few key issues with your family.

If a family member is terminally ill or admitted to hospice – and you are able to do so – it may be a good idea to start by helping to take inventory of your family member’s assets and liabilities. A clear idea of where their assets are and what they have is a great starting point to help you prepare and be in a better position to manage the estate.

An inventory may include any and all of the following:

  • Real estate
  • Bank accounts
  • Cars, boats and other vehicles
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement plans (such as a 401(k), a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA and a SEP IRA);
  • Wages and other income
  • Business interests
  • Intellectual property; and
  • Any debts, liabilities and judgments.

Next, find out what, if any, estate planning documents may be in place. This includes a will, powers of attorney, trusts, a healthcare directive and a living will. You will need to find copies.

Caring for a sick parent while also managing their financial affairs can be challenging, but it can make the aftermath easier and less stressful for you and your family. If you are interested in reading more about elder care issues, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Seniors Matter (Feb. 22, 2022) “How do I handle my father’s financial matters now that he’s in hospice?”

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Letter of Instruction is Resource for Executors

Letter of Instruction is Resource for Executors

A letter of intent is frequently recommended for parents of disabled children to share information for when the parent dies. However, a letter of intent, or a letter of instruction, is also a helpful resource for executors, says the article “Planning Ahead: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction” from The Mercury. This is especially valuable, if the executor doesn’t know the decedent or their family members very well.

For disabled children, legal documents address specific issues and aren’t necessarily the right place to include personal information about the child or the parent’s desires for the child’s future. Estate plans need more information, especially for a minor child.

The goal is to create a document to make clear what the parents want for the child after they pass, whether that occurs early or late in the child’s life.

For a disabled child, the first questions to be addressed in the estate plan concern who will care for the child if the parent dies or becomes incapacitated, where will the child live and what funds will be available for their care. Once those matters are resolved, however, there are more questions about the child’s wants and needs.

The letter of intent can answer questions about the special information only a parent knows and is helpful in future decisions about their care and living situation.

The letter of intent concerning an estate should also include information about wishes for a funeral or burial and contain everything from directions for the music list for a ceremony to the writing on the headstone.

Once the letter of intent is created, the next question is, where should you put it so it is secure and can be accessed when it is needed?

Don’t put it in a bank safe deposit box. This is a common error for estate planning documents as well. The executor may only access the contents of the safe deposit box after letters of administration have been issued. This happens after the funeral, and sometimes long after the funeral. By then, it will be too late for any instructions.

Keeping estate planning documents in a safe deposit box presents other problems. If the bank seals the safe deposit box on notification of the owner’s death, the executor won’t be able to proceed. This can sometimes be prevented by having additional owners on the safe deposit box, if permitted by the bank . Any additional owners will also need to know where the key is located and be able get access to it.

The better solution is to keep all important documents including wills, financial power of attorney, health care powers, letter of intent, living wills, or health care directives, insurance forms, cemetery deeds, information for the family’s estate planning attorney, financial advisor, and CPA, etc., in one location known to the trusted person who will need access to the documents. That person will need a set of keys to the house. If they are kept in a fire and waterproof safe in the house; they will also need the keys to the safe.

If the parents move or move the documents, they’ll need to remember to tell the trusted person where these documents have moved., Otherwise, a lot of work will have been for naught. A letter of instruction can be an enormous resource for executors looking to fulfill your wishes. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to include one in your planning. If you would like to learn more about letters of instruction, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Mercury (Jan. 19, 2022) “Planning Ahead: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction”

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estate planning documents everyone needs

Estate Planning Documents Everyone Needs

This is the time of year when people start thinking about getting piles or files of paperwork in order in preparing for a new year and for taxes. There are certain estate planning documents everyone needs. A recent article “How to Prepare, Organize and Store Estate-Planning Documents” from The Street gives useful tips on how to do this.

First, the most important documents:

Estate Planning documents, including your Will, Power of Attorney (POA), Healthcare Proxy, Living Will (often called an Advance Care Directive). The will is for asset distribution after death, but other documents are needed to protect you while you’re alive.

The POA is used to name someone to act on your behalf, if you cannot. A POA can be created to be specific, for example, to have someone else pay your bills, or it can be general, letting someone do everything from paying bills to managing the sale of your home. Be cautious about using standard POA documents, since they don’t reflect every situation.

A Healthcare Proxy empowers someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf. The Living Will or Advance Care Directive outlines the type of care you do (or don’t) want when at the end of your life. This alleviates a terrible burden on your loved ones, who may not otherwise know what you would have wanted.

Add a Digital POA so someone will be able to access and manage your online accounts (subject to the terms and conditions of each digital platform).

Your Last Will and Testament conveys how you want your estate—that is, everything you own that does not have a surviving joint owner or a designated beneficiary—to be distributed after death. Your will is also used to name a guardian for minor children. It is also used to name an executor, the person who will be in charge of carrying out the instructions in the will.

A list of all of your assets, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments, savings and checking accounts, will make it easier for your executor to identify and distribute assets. Don’t forget to check to see which accounts allow you to name a beneficiary and make sure those names are correct.

Both wills and trusts are used to convey assets to beneficiaries, but unlike a will, “funded” trusts don’t go through the probate process. An experienced estate planning attorney can create a trust to distribute almost any kind of property and follow your specific directions. Do you want your children to gain access to the trust after they have reached a certain age? Or when they have married and had children of their own? A trust allows for greater control of your assets.

Finally, talk with your family members about your estate plan, your wishes for end-of-life medical care and what you want to happen after you die. Write a letter of intent if it’s too hard to have a face-to-face conversation about these topics, but find a way to let them know. The documents listed above are the bare minimum estate planning documents everyone needs to acquire. Your estate planning attorney has worked with many families and will be able to provide you with suggestions and guidance. If you would like to learn more about estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Street (Dec. 20, 2021) “How to Prepare, Organize and Store Estate-Planning Documents”

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Young adults should have a will

Young Adults should have a Will

Young adults should have a will. Millennials are starting to get their affairs in order, contacting estate planning attorneys because they are concerned about dying unexpectedly. A study by Caring.com, a senior referral service, said that almost a third of young adults, ages 18—34, had a will in 2021, compared to 18% in 2019. The leap, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Millennials, Feeling Their Mortality During Covid-19, Start Writing Their Wills” can be directly attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The concern over continued uncertainty regarding whether the young adults themselves or their family members will become sick, and die is all too real. Millennials also haven’t experienced another event: sharply rising inflation. The general sense of unease and instability is leading young adults to make sure they have wills and healthcare proxies in place to give some sense of control in the face of an unstable world. Young adults with families are especially concerned, as new variants of Covid emerge.

Before the pandemic, young adults, even with those with children, didn’t feel the need to have an estate plan created. That’s changed.

Just under half of all Americans have a will, and people 65 and up have traditionally been more likely to have one, according to a May 2021 study by Gallup. This number has been relatively stable since about 1990.

If you die without a will, the state law determines how to distribute assets, under court supervision. The process is slower and far more costly for survivors. In many situations, not having a will can be catastrophic. If beneficiaries with special needs inherit funds outright, and not in a Supplemental Needs Trust (or a Special Needs Trust), they could lose government benefits necessary for their day-to-day lives.

Wills are also used to name a guardian to care for minor children. If both parents die and there is no will, a court will decide who should raise a child. The court may not necessarily name a family member, and the person may not be who the parents or grandparents might have wished.

Similarly, news about millennial celebrities dying unexpectedly also pushes the “go” button for millennials to get their wills completed. When Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died of a fentanyl overdose in 2019, calls to estate planning attorneys from millennial males increased in many law offices. At the same time, millennials who are aware of the importance of a will for themselves and their families are pressing their parents to get their wills prepared or updated.

In every case, having a will is far less costly than not having a will. The cost of preparing a will depends on many factors: the size of the estate, the complexity of the family situation, the nature of assets and where the will is being prepared. Other documents are necessary. For example, every adult should have a power of attorney, health care proxy, living will and possibly a trust.

Even young adults should take the time to draft a will. The last gift you leave your heirs is a plan and organized documents, so they can grieve properly after you pass, rather than having to embark on a scavenger hunt through decades of paperwork and old files. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 6, 2021) “Millennials, Feeling Their Mortality During Covid-19, Start Writing Their Wills”

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When to have Healthcare conversation with Parents?

When to have Healthcare conversation with Parents?

You have been noticing that your mother or father appears to be in cognitive decline. But you wonder when to have a healthcare conversation with your parents? Waiting until a senior’s decline is apparent may already be too late, says CNBC’s recent article entitled “Waiting to talk finance with an aging parent in cognitive decline is a mistake, experts say.”

Adult children should be talking to their elderly parents about this while they’re still working because they’re still competent and still able to fund long-term care and pay the premiums from income.

Some incidents that could trigger these conversations include a parent thinking about downsizing, claiming Social Security, going on an extended trip, or finding out one of their friends is going into long-term care.

Adult children should ask questions to get a clear sense of their parents’ financial situation. However, they should understand that getting this information may take several discussions.

Here are questions to ask your parents in stages, over a period of time (from least uncomfortable to most):

  • Where do you keep your financial and estate planning documents?
  • What assets do you have and what are your debts?
  • Is it possible to meet with your advisors to have a good understanding in the event of a crisis?
  • Who are your healthcare professionals?
  • What medications do you take and where’s your pharmacy?
  • Do you have long-term care insurance or other plans for long-term care?
  • What are your wishes as to end-of-life care and funeral plans and expenses?
  • If you have a medical crisis, what kind of treatment do you want?

Evaluate your parents’ responses with the help of an elder law attorney to these basic questions and plan the next steps.

There’s some paperwork that should be done at this point, if it hasn’t already. This includes a power of attorney, healthcare directive and a living will. Do not wait to have a healthcare conversation with your parents. Discuss your options and seek advice from an experienced Elder Law attorney. If you are interested in learning more about Elder Law, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: CNBC (Nov. 30, 2021) “Waiting to talk finance with an aging parent in cognitive decline is a mistake, experts say”

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holidays are a good time to have a family meeting

Holidays are a good time for a Family Meeting

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is” recommends that families talk about money with an elderly parent. The holidays are a good time for a family meeting. If it’s really too late, you should know where to find the following:

Get the most recent tax return. This will have the name and contact information of the accountant who prepared the tax return. The tax return will also document income. If you find the income, you can find the assets. The reason is that earned interest, dividends, pension income and withdrawals from retirement accounts will be reported on the tax return. You should also call his or her employer’s human resources department to see if there’s a company life insurance benefit or 401(k) balance.

When a senior is admitted to the hospital, their health can sometimes deteriorate quickly. It’s one example of how everyone needs to have their estate plan updated and make sure their financial affairs are in order at all times. Someone must know all of the financial details and how to access the money, life insurance and other important documents. Here are some actions to consider taking now to ensure this situation doesn’t occur with you or a family member.

Collect key financial documents. During the family meeting, ask your parents to collect copies of the following documents:

  • Their wills;
  • Any trusts;
  • Their financial power of attorney;
  • All bank and brokerage account information;
  • Social Security statements;
  • Their website log-ins for any financial assets and insurance policies;
  • A list of beneficiaries for IRAs, annuities and life insurance policies;
  • A list of any other assets and debts; and
  • Their most recent tax returns.

As you begin gathering these documents, the most crucial one to help uncover current assets is the tax return. It can help describe the parent’s assets and the income they have from pensions, annuities, real estate investments, business interests and Social Security. A Schedule B is filed to report the interest and dividends received each tax year. If you’re unable to locate any paper statements or log-in information to financial websites to track down an asset, ask the tax preparer for a copy of the 1099 form for each asset, so you will know which company to contact.

Make certain key documents are signed. These are a will, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney and any trust documents. Put these in a safe place, along with a copy of the Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates. You should also provide copies and access to files to people who serve as professional advisers, such as attorneys, accountants, financial planners and insurance agents. In addition, share contents of this collection with your parent’s executor, financial and health care agent and/or another relative who lives nearby. With everyone gathered together, the holidays are a good time to have a family meeting and make sure everyone is on the same page. If you would like to learn more about planning for elderly loved ones, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 1, 2021) “Someone Needs to Know Where Your Money Is”

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evaluate your estate planning during a divorce

Evaluate your planning during Divorce

Divorce is never easy. Adding the complexities of estate planning can make it harder. However, it still needs to be included during the divorce process, says a recent article entitled “How to Change Your Estate Plan During Divorce from the Waco Tribune-Herald. It is smart to evaluate your estate planning during a divorce.

Some of the key things to bear in mind during a divorce include:

Is your Last Will and Testament aligned with your pending divorce? The unexpected occurs, whether planning a relaxing vacation or a contentious divorce. If you were to die in the process, which usually takes a few years, who would inherit your worldly goods? Your ex? A trust created to take care of your children, with a trusted sibling as a trustee?

Are your beneficiary designations up to date? For the same reason, make sure that life insurance policies, retirement accounts and any financial accounts allowing you to name a beneficiary are current to reflect your pending or new marital status.

Certain changes may not be made until the divorce is finalized. For instance, there are laws concerning spouses and pension distribution. You might not be able to make a change until the divorce is finalized.  If your divorce agreement includes maintaining life insurance for the support of minor children, you must keep your spouse (or whoever is the agreed-upon guardian) as the policy beneficiary.

Once the divorce decree is accepted by the court, the best path forward is to have a completely new will prepared. Making a patchwork estate plan of amendments can be more expensive and leave your estate more vulnerable after you have passed. A new will revokes the original document, including naming an executor and a guardian for minor children.

The will is far from the only document to be changed. Other documents to be created include health care directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. All of these are used to name people who will act on your behalf, in the event of incapacity.

It’s a good idea to update these documents during the divorce process. If you are in the middle of an ugly, emotionally charged divorce, the last person you want making life or death decisions as your health care proxy or being in charge of your finances is your soon-to-be ex.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about evaluating your planning during the divorce process. They will be able to make further recommendations to protect you, your children and your estate during and after the divorce. If you would like to read more about estate planning during and after divorce, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Waco Tribune-Herald (Oct. 18, 2021) “How to Change Your Estate Plan During Divorce”

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Estate Planning for Young Adults

Estate Planning for Young Adults

There are some basic estate planning needs for young adults once they reach 18. This 18th birthday milestone legally notes the transition from minors to official adults, bringing with it major changes in legal status, says NJ Family’s recent article entitled “What You Need to Know (Legally and Medically) On Your Teen’s 18th Birthday.”

Adults—even your 18-year-old— is entitled to privacy rights. This means that anyone not given explicit rights via a power of attorney and HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release, among other important documents, can be denied info and access—even parents. Here’s what every family should have:

Power of Attorney. A power of attorney (POA) gives an agent (such as you as the parent) the authority to act on behalf of a principal (your adult child) in specific matters stated in the POA.

You can also have a POA for medical decisions and one for finances.

HIPAA Release. When kids become legal adults, they have a right to complete health privacy under HIPAA. That means no one can see their information without permission, even you!

Ask your child to sign a HIPAA release form (which is often included along with the medical power of attorney), to let their health providers share relevant information.

Wills. A simple Will is a good idea. It may also be a good time for you to review your estate plan to see how circumstances changed.

The wisest and safest way to get a credit card for your adult child is to add your child to your account. That way you can monitor transactions. Students also get an immediate bump in their credit score, which is important for renting apartments. However, the main point is to teach them skills and how to be responsible with money.

Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting all of the necessary estate planning for your newly-minted young adult. If you would like to read more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: NJ Family (Oct. 6, 2021) “What You Need to Know (Legally and Medically) On Your Teen’s 18th Birthday”

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even college kids need estate planning

Even College Kids Need Estate Planning

Even college kids need estate planning. The topic of estate planning is frequently overlooked in the craze to get kids to college.

When your child leaves home, it’s important to understand that legally you may not hold the same rights in your relationship that you did for the first 18 years of your child’s life.

Wealth Advisor’s article entitled “Estate Planning Documents Every College Student Should Have in Place” says that it’s crucial to have these discussions as soon as possible with your college student about the plans they should put into place before going out on their own or heading to college. An experienced estate planning attorney can give counsel on the issues concerning your child’s physical health and financial well-being.

When your child turns 18, you’re no longer your child’s legal guardian. Therefore, issues pertaining to his or her health can’t be disclosed to you without your child’s consent. For instance, if your child is in an accident and becomes temporarily incapacitated, you couldn’t make any medical decisions or even give consent. As a result, you’d likely be denied access to his or her medical information. Ask your child to complete a HIPAA release. This is a medical form that names the people allowed to get information about an individual’s medical status, when care is needed. If you’re not named on their HIPAA release, it’s a major challenge to obtain any medical updates about your adult child, including information like whether they have been admitted to a hospital.

In addition, your child also needs to determine the individual who will manage their healthcare decisions, if they’re unable to do so on their own. This is done by designating a healthcare proxy or agent. Without this document, the decision about who makes choices regarding your child’s medical matters may be uncertain.

Your child should ensure his or her financial matters are addressed if he or she can’t see to them, either due to mental incapacity or physical limitations, such as studying abroad. Ask that you or another trusted relative or friend be named agent under your child’s financial power of attorney, so that you can help with managing things like financial aid, banking and tax matters. While they may feel they are invincible, even college kids need estate planning. If you would like to learn more about planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Sep. 24, 2021) “Estate Planning Documents Every College Student Should Have in Place”

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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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