Category: Special Needs

Planning for Special Needs Requires Care

Planning for Special Needs Requires Care

Planning for loved ones with special needs requires great care. When a family includes a disabled individual, sometimes referred to as a “person with special needs,” estate planning needs to address the complexities, as described in a recent article titled “Customize estate plan to account for disabled beneficiaries” from The News-Enterprise. Failing to do so can have life-long repercussions for the individual.

This often occurs because the testator, the person creating the estate plan, does not know the implications of failing to take the disabled person’s situation into consideration, or when there is no will.

The most common error is leaving the disabled beneficiary receiving an outright inheritance. With a simple will, or no will, the beneficiary receives the inheritance and becomes ineligible for public benefits they may be receiving. The disruption can impact their medical care, housing, work and social programs. It may also lead to the loss of their inheritance.

If the disabled beneficiary does not currently receive benefits, it does not mean they will never need them. After the death of a parent, for instance, they may become completely reliant on public benefits. An inheritance will put them in jeopardy.

A second common error is naming the caregiver as the beneficiary, rather than the disabled individual. This causes numerous problems. The caregiver has the right to do whatever they want with the assets. If they no longer wish to care for the beneficiary, they are under no legal obligation to do so.

If the caregiver has any liabilities of their own, or when the caregiver becomes incapacitated or dies, the assets intended for the disabled individual will be subject to any estate taxes or creditors of the caregiver. If the caregiver has any children of their own, they will inherit the assets and not the disabled person.

The caregiver does not enjoy any kind of estate tax protection, so the estate may end up paying taxes on assets intended for the beneficiary.

The third major planning mistake is using a will instead of a trust as the primary planning method. A Special Needs Trust is designed to benefit a disabled individual to protect the assets and protect the individual’s public benefits. The trust assets can be used for continuity of care, while maintaining privacy for the individual and the family.

Planning for individuals with special needs requires great care, specifically for the testator and their beneficiaries. Families who appear to be similar on the outside may have very different needs, making a personalized estate plan vital to ensure that beneficiaries have the protection they deserve and need. If you would like to learn more about special needs issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The News-Enterprise (March 15, 2022) “Customize estate plan to account for disabled beneficiaries”

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When does someone need a guardian?

When Does Someone Need a Guardian?

When does someone need a guardian? When a person is legally deemed incapable of managing their own affairs and has not named a financial power of attorney to do so, a guardian or conservator may be needed. A family member may be appointed to the task, as explained in a recent article “What to Do When a Family Member Needs a Guardian” from Kiplinger.

Guardians are usually responsible for personal affairs, while a conservator is generally limited to financial matters. These terms vary by state, so ask the estate planning attorney which ones are most appropriate for your situation. In many cases, one person takes on both roles.

The control over another person’s life and money has been in the news a lot lately. The years-long battle between Brittney Spears and her father showed how things can go wrong, as did the movie “I Care a Lot,” about a professional guardian who steals life savings from elderly people.

It is better for an adult child to care for a parent through the use of Power of Attorney and Healthcare Power of Attorney than having to go to court to gain control through a guardianship. Having these documents prepared while the person still has legal capacity to execute them is far easier and less costly. Guardianship and conservatorship are last resorts when no prior planning has been done.

How does it work? Rules vary from state to state, but generally, a person—referred to as the petitioner—files a petition with a local court to seek guardianship. A judge holds a hearing to determine whether the person in question, known as the respondent, meets the state’s standards for needing a guardian. The respondent has a right to have an attorney represent them, if they do not feel they need or want to have a guardian.

Guardianship does more than give another person the right to make financial decisions for another person. Under guardianship, a person may lose the right to vote, marry, travel, or make certain medical decisions. Courts are often reluctant to take away all of these rights. In many states, courts are allowed to limit the guardian’s authority to managing bills and maintaining a home.

The least intrusive option is preferable, which would be using the Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney in the first place.

Another point—most courts will not grant a guardianship, if a person is physically disabled but mentally sharp. Making bad decisions, like handling money irresponsibly, or keeping company with people who are potentially preying on a senior, is not enough reason to put someone under guardianship. You cannot always protect someone from themselves.

However, the need for guardianship is clear if a person has suffered a stroke and is in a coma or is suffering from dementia. Other reasons are severe depression where a person cannot function or delirium, when a person is unaware of their environment and confused by everything around them. Delusional disorders are also reasons for guardianship.

When the person meets the standard of need, the courts typically prefer to appoint a family member. However, if there is no appropriate person, a public guardian paid by the state or a professional guardian paid by the family can be appointed.

Filing a guardianship petition can cost thousands of dollars, and a professional guardian can charge upwards of $250 an hour. Most guardians are well meaning, but often run into conflicts with family members. The guardian’s job is to protect the person, not serve the interest of the family. If the family’s sole interest is in protecting their inheritance, the guardian can find themselves in a difficult situation.

Family members serving as guardians can also find themselves in difficult situations. The guardian, whether a professional or family member, must keep meticulous records of any monies spent and the tasks performed on behalf of the person.

The process of determining when someone needs a guardian is complicated and time consuming. The best solution is to prepare in advance with a Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney and all of the estate planning documents needed so the family can act without court intervention, the costs of applying for guardianship and the possibility of a professional guardian being appointed. If you would like to read more about guardianship, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Jan. 25, 2022) “What to Do When a Family Member Needs a Guardian”

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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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what a will can and cannot do

What a Will Can and Cannot Do

You want to begin the process of estate planning by drafting a will. That is great. But do you know what a will can and cannot do? Having a will doesn’t avoid probate, the court-directed process of validating a will and confirming the executor. To avoid probate, an estate planning attorney can create trusts and other ways for assets to be transferred directly to heirs before or upon death. Estate planning is guided by the laws of each state, according to the article “Before writing your own will know what wills can, can’t and shouldn’t try to do” from Arkansas Online.

In some states, probate is not expensive or lengthy, while in others it is costly and time-consuming. However, one thing is consistent: when a will is probated, it becomes part of the public record and anyone who wishes to read it, like creditors, ex-spouses, or estranged children, may do so.

One way to bypass probate is to create a revocable living trust and then transfer ownership of real estate, financial accounts, and other assets into the trust. You can be the trustee, but upon your death, your successor trustee takes charge and distributes assets according to the directions in the trust.

Another way people avoid probate is to have assets retitled to be owned jointly. However, anything owned jointly is vulnerable, depending upon the good faith of the other owner. And if the other owner has trouble with creditors or is ending a marriage, the assets may be lost to debt or divorce.

Accounts with beneficiaries, like life insurance and retirement funds bypass probate. The person named as the beneficiary receives assets directly. Just be sure the designated beneficiaries are updated every few years to be current.

Assets titled “Payable on Death” (POD), or “Transfer on Death” (TOD) designate beneficiaries and bypass probate, but not all financial institutions allow their use.

In some states, you can have a TOD deed for real estate or vehicles. Your estate planning attorney will know what your state allows.

Some people think they can use their wills to enforce behavior, putting conditions on inheritances, but certain conditions are not legally enforceable. If you required a nephew to marry or divorce before receiving an inheritance, it’s not likely to happen. Someone must also oversee the bequest and decide when the inheritance can be distributed after the probate.

However, trusts can be used to set conditions on asset distribution. The trust documents are used to establish your wishes for the assets and the trustee is charged with following your directions on when and how much to distribute assets to beneficiaries.

Leaving money to a disabled person who depends on government benefits puts their eligibility for benefits like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid at risk. An estate planning attorney can create a Special Needs Trust to allow for an inheritance without jeopardizing their services.

Finally, in certain states you can use a will to disinherit a spouse, but it’s not easy. Every state has a way to protect a spouse from being completely disinherited. In community property states, a spouse has a legal right to half of any property acquired during the marriage, regardless of how the property is titled. In other states, a spouse has a legal right to a third to one half of the estate, regardless of what is in the will. Depending on your state and circumstances, it may not be possible to completely disinherit a spouse.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you understand what a will can and cannot do, and help guide you through the process of drafting your will. If you would like to learn more about estate planning documents, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Arkansas Online (Dec. 27, 2021) “Before writing your own will know what wills can, can’t and shouldn’t try to do”

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Choose carefully when naming a trustee

Choose carefully when Naming a Trustee

When a revocable living trust is created, the grantor (person who creates the trust) names a successor trustee, the person who will take charge of the trust when the grantor dies. One of the biggest sticking points in creating a trust is often selecting a successor trustee. You need to choose carefully when naming a trustee. A recent article, “Be careful when choosing your successor trustee,” from Los Altos Town Crier explains what can go wrong and how to protect your estate.

When the grantor dies, the successor trustee is in charge of determining the value of the trust and distributing assets to named beneficiaries. If there are unclear provisions in the trust, the trustee is required by law, as a fiduciary, to use good judgment and put the interest of the beneficiaries ahead of the trustee’s own interests.

When considering who to name as a successor trustee, you have many options. Just because your first born adult child wants to be in charge doesn’t mean they are the best candidate. You’ll want to name a reliable, responsible and organized person, who will be able to manage finances, tax reporting and respects the law.

The decision is not always an easy one. The child who lives closest to you may be excellent at caregiving, but not adept at handling finances. The child who lives furthest away may be skilled at handling money, but will they be able to manage their tasks long distance?

A trustee needs to be able to understand what their role is and know when they need the help of an estate planning attorney. Some trusts are complicated and tax reporting is rarely simple. The trustee may need to create a team of professionals, including an estate planning attorney, a CPA and a financial advisor. Someone who thinks they can manage an estate on their own with zero experience in the law or finance may be headed for trouble.

If there are no family members or trusted friends who can serve in this role, it may be best to consider a professional fiduciary to serve as a successor trustee. An estate planning attorney may also serve as a successor trustee.

The next option is a financial institution or trust company. Some banks have trust departments and take on this role, but they often have steep minimums and will only work with estates with significant value. Fees are also likely to be higher than for a professional fiduciary or other professional. Be sure to inquire how they evaluate your needs and ensure quality of care, if you become incapacitated. What processes are in place to protect grantors?

Another alternative is to identify a nonprofit with a pooled trust that accepts trustee responsibilities for individuals with special needs and for others who would prefer to have a nonprofit in this role.

Choose carefully when naming a trustee. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you identify the best candidate for this role, as you work through the creation of the trust. Don’t be shy about asking for help with this important matter. If you would like to read more about the role of trustee, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Los Altos Town Crier (Nov. 17, 2021) “Be careful when choosing your successor trustee”

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The Estate of The Union Episode 10

The Estate of The Union episode 10 is live!

In the newest installment of The Estate of The Union podcast, Brad Wiewel is joined by Melissa Donovan, Certified Elder Law Attorney and Director of Elder Law and Special Needs Planning to discuss ABLE accounts and how they work to protect the financial well-being of your special needs family member.

Families with loved ones with Special Needs have stresses and challenges that are difficult to measure. ABLE Accounts are a relatively new and innovative tool to use that can provide Special Needs loved ones with additional resources and help maximize their life style. The accounts allow eligible individuals to save money without putting their eligibility for government benefits at risk. The income from the account is not used for means testing for Social Security Income or Medicaid.

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insight into estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand.

It is Estate Planning Made Simple!

The Estate of The Union episode 10 can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. The Estate of The Union Episode 9 out now. We hope you enjoy it.

The Estate of The Union Episode 10 out now

Texas Trust Law/Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. 

Estate planning for special needs children

Estate Planning for Special Needs Children

Part of providing comprehensive estate planning for families includes being prepared to address the needs of family members with special needs. Estate planning for special needs children comes with its own set of challenges. Some of the tools used are trusts, guardianship and tax planning, according to the article “How to Help Clients With Special Needs Children” from Accounting Web. Your estate planning attorney will be able to create a plan for the future that addresses both legal and financial protections.

A survey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed that 12.8 percent of children in our country have special health care needs, while 20 percent of all American households include a child with special needs. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) estimates that 26% of adults in America have some type of disability. In other words, some 61 million Americans have some kind of disability.

Providing for a child with special needs can be expensive, depending upon the severity of the disability. The first estate planning step for families is to have a special needs trust for your children, created through an estate planning attorney with experience in this area. The goal is to have money for the support and care of the child available, but for it not to be in the child’s name. While there are benefits available to the child through the federal government, almost all programs are means-tested, that is, the child or adult with special needs may not have assets of their own.

For many parents, a good option is a substantial life insurance policy, with the beneficiary of the policy being the special needs trust. Depending on the family’s situation, a “second to die” policy may make sense. Both parents are listed as the insured, but the policy does not pay until both parents have passed. Premiums may be lower because of this option.

It is imperative for parents of a child with special needs to have their estate plan created to direct their assets to go to the special needs trust and not to the child directly. This is done to protect the child’s eligibility to receive government benefits.

Parents of a child with special needs also need to consider who will care for their child after they have died, and have this clearly stated in their estate plan. A guardian needs to be named as early as possible in the child’s life, in case something should occur to the parents. The guardianship may end at age 18 for most children, but for an individual with special needs, more protection is needed. The guardian and their role need to be spelled out in documents. It is a grave mistake for parents to assume a family member or sibling will care for their child with special needs. The need to prepare for guardianship cannot be overstated.

The special needs trust will also require a trustee and a secondary trustee, if at some point the primary trustee cannot or does not want to serve.

It may seem easier to name the same person as the trustee and the guardian, but this could lead to difficult situations. A better way to go is to have one person paying the bills and keeping an eye on costs and a second person taking care of the individual.

Planning for the child’s long-term care needs to be done as soon as possible. A special needs trust should be established and funded early on, wills need to be created and/or updated, and qualified professionals become part of the family’s care for their loved one.

Having a child with special needs is a different kind of parenting. So estate planning for special needs children will also be different. A commonly used analogy is for a person who expected to be taking a trip to Paris but finds themselves in Holland. The trip is not what they expected, but still a wonderful and rewarding experience.

If you would like to read more about special needs planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Accounting Web (Sep. 13, 2021) “How to Help Clients With Special Needs Children”

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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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