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Estate Planning

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?

“Some are sad.
And some are glad.
And some are very, very bad.
Why are they Sad and glad and bad?
I do not know.
Go ask your dad.”

Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Did you know that more than half of American adults—and 78% of millennials—don’t have any basic estate planning documents like a will or living trust? It may not be that much of a shock, since younger adults tend to put off thoughts of estate planning. However, even if you don’t have children or many assets yet, you can benefit from creating an estate plan now. Forbes’s recent article, “6 Reasons Why You Should Have An Estate Plan,” provided six reasons why you should have an estate plan at any point in life:  

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?

Plan for yourself.
A big step in the estate planning process, is deciding who will make decisions on your behalf, if you’re unable to do so yourself. If you become incapacitated, a revocable trust will hold assets for your benefit, while you’re alive and name the individuals you want to receive your property when you pass. Designating an agent under a durable power of attorney to act on your behalf when it comes to financial and legal matters, if you become physically or mentally disabled, can help make certain that any decisions made, are in your best interest. If you can’t make medical decisions for yourself, you should have a healthcare proxy, agent or power of attorney, HIPAA release, and living will.

Decide How to Dispose of Your Wealth.
A will names an executor or personal representative who’s responsible for the administration of your estate after you die. He or she distributes property, as you determine in your will. If you have minor children, you can also designate a guardian to care for them in your will. Any life insurance, retirement accounts, or annuities require you to name beneficiaries, so they don’t need to be included in a will.

Lessen Transfer Taxes.
One goal of estate planning is to maximize the wealth you transfer to your beneficiaries, along with minimizing transfer taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 expanded the amount individuals may give away at death—or during life—without any transfer taxes. The new law offers an increased exemption amount and portability. That means spouses can share one another’s exemption. You can make annual tax-free gifts up to $15,000 in 2019 (twice this amount for married couples). You can also pay medical and educational expenses for someone else without any gift tax.

Include Charitable Giving.
If you have philanthropic goals, an estate plan can help make certain that your objectives are satisfied. You can select a charity that’s important to you, choose the assets you want to donate, and decide—along with your attorney—the best way to make your gift.

Protect Family Wealth.
There can also be wealth protection benefits in estate planning through asset ownership arrangements, insurance, limited liability entities, irrevocable trusts and asset protection trusts. These are designed to protect your assets from creditors. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you decide, if one of these options is appropriate for your situation.

Ready your Family to Receive Wealth.
You can also prepare the next generation to receive wealth, which can also be helpful in preserving family wealth in the long run. Your estate plan can set out wealth planning goals, facilitate conversations about what wealth means to your family and educate your adult children about financial ideas and the ways in which they can get involved in creating and sustaining the family legacy.

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan? Estate planning can be a formidable task, especially if you’re starting from ground zero. However, you can always engage an estate planning attorney to help you develop the documents you need to give you peace of mind about your financial affairs.

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Elder Law Estate Planning

Estate Planning When A Family Member Is Disabled

This kind of mistake can wreak havoc on many lives, which is why it is so important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about special needs planning. The article, “Crafting an estate plan to include disabled family members

 from The Ledger explains what is involved in special needs planning.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that pays monthly benefits to disabled or blind adults and children. To qualify, an individual must have fewer than $2,000 of countable assets and very limited income. Medicaid is a Federal and State health insurance program that helps people with limited assets and income pay for their medical costs.

While it is common for people to name their spouse or children as beneficiaries in their estate plan, if your spouse or child is disabled and receiving government benefits, an inheritance will result in their loss of benefits, unless special planning is done.

Estate Planning When a Family Member Is Disabled. Special Needs Trust (SNT) is designed for disabled beneficiaries so that cash, real property, or any other assets are available for the person’s benefit, while still allowing the disabled person to receive their means-based government benefits.

There are several different ways to accomplish this, depending on your family’s situation. One way is to have a testamentary Special Needs Trust created within a will or trust that goes into effect, when the creator of the trust or the will dies. A SNT can also be created while you are living and can be funded, instead of waiting for it to go into effect at your death.

A third-party SNT can be named as the beneficiary of life insurance policies and retirement accounts, investment accounts or real property. The third-party SNT assets that are not used for the disabled beneficiary during their lifetime, can pass to non-disabled beneficiaries upon the death of the disabled beneficiary.

These assets will be free from Medicaid recovery liens, since the property in a third party SNT does not belong to the disabled beneficiary

Estate Planning When a Family Member Is Disabled. A first party SNT is set up and funded with assets that do belong to a disabled person, and no other funds can be contributed to this type of trust by any other donors. These are often used when a large settlement following an injury is awarded. In Florida and in other states, first-party SNTs are subject to Medicaid recovery to reimburse the state.

Special needs trusts are complicated trusts and require the knowledge of an experienced attorney who devotes most, if not all, of their practice to SNTs and trust and estate planning.

Reference: The Leadger (May 2, 2019) “Crafting an estate plan to include disabled family members

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Elder Law Estate Planning

What is an Advance Directive and Do I Need One?

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” Voltaire

“Once a patient goes brain dead and relatives sign his organ donation consent form, he will get the best medical treatment of his life. A hospital code blue may be a call for doctors to rush to the bedside of a beating heart cadaver who needs his or her heart defibrillated.” Dick Teresi, The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers–How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death.

As an agent appointed by a Health Care Proxy, you will have the right to make the following types of decisions: Choices about medical care, including medical tests, medicine, or surgery. …
These are difficult questions to think about. However, they are very important, as every estate planning attorney knows. Should you ever become unable to speak for yourself, reports the Enid News & Eagle in the article “Veteran Connection: What you should know about advance directives,” there is a way to make a plan, so your wishes are known to another person or persons and by legally conveying them in advance, making sure you have a say, even when you don’t have a voice.

The advance directive helps family members and your doctors understand your wishes about medical care. The wishes you express through these two documents described below, require reflection on values, beliefs, views on medical treatments, quality of life during intense medical care and may even touch on spiritual beliefs. The goal is to prepare so your wishes are followed, when you are no longer able to express them. This can include situations like end-of-life care, the use of a respirator to breathe for you, or who you want to be in the room with you, when you are near death.

It should be noted that an advance directive also includes a mental health component, that extends to making decisions on your behalf when there are mental health issues, not just physical issues.

What is an Advance Directive and Do I Need One? There are three types of documents: a durable power of attorney for health care, a health care proxy and a living will.

The durable power of attorney for health care lets you name a person you trust to make health care decisions when you cannot make them for yourself. This person is called your health care agent and will have the legal right to make these decisions. If you don’t have this in place, your doctor will decide who should speak for you. They may rely on order of relationships: a legal guardian, spouse, adult child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or a close friend.

A living will is the document that communicates what kind of health care you want, if you become ill and cannot make decisions for yourself. This helps your named person and your doctor make decisions about your care that align with your own wishes. Another very important part of this issue: the conversation with the people who you want to be on hand when these decisions have to be made. Are they willing to serve in this capacity? Can they make the hard decisions, especially if it’s what you wanted and not what they would want? Do you want a spouse to make these decisions on your behalf? Many people do that, but you may have a trusted family member or friend you would prefer, if you feel that your spouse will be too overwhelmed to follow your wishes.

Reference: Enid News & Eagle (March 13, 2019) “Veteran Connection: What you should know about advance directives”

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Elder Law Estate Planning

Can Retirement be Recession-Proof?

Can Retirement be Recession-Proof? It was a tough time for people who had just retired, but since that time stocks have rebounded in a spectacular manner. However, says Money in the article “This is the Best Way to Recession-Proof Your Retirement, According to Experts,” it is possible that the long rally may be coming to an end.

Is there anything that can be done do to protect your retirement accounts from the next financial disaster? Those who are closest to retirement, are always the most vulnerable to drops in the stock market, and those who are retired and drawing down savings are even more at risk. However, you can build a financial buffer to help your retirement funds survive any downturns. No one knows when the next recession or stock slide will occur. There will always be one, so it’s best to be prepared. It’s simply an acknowledgement of the real risks of markets. On average, recessions last about 18 months. What can you do?

Build a cushion. Commit to building an emergency fund. That should be three to six months of expenses. And it doesn’t matter how rock solid or large your retirement investments are. If you take money out prematurely, it’s going to weaken your portfolio.

Pay down all debt, or as much as possible. That is key to feeling fiscally secure, once you leave the workforce. This is because less of your assets are tied up in long-term retirement investments. Tackle the highest interest rate debt first.

It’s far easier to adjust discretionary expenses, than it is to add cash to a stockpile. You can skip a vacation. You can’t skip a mortgage payment. Depending on how close you are to retirement, consider tweaking your investment portfolio. Portfolios can become unbalanced over time, as assets in different classes grow or fund managers change. Review your portfolio to limit your exposure to volatility. Scrub out any unnecessary risk. That may include putting some money in cash or cash equivalents, like savings accounts, CDs and short-term bond funds.

You don’t have to be very conservative on the entire portfolio. People nearing retirement age usually trim some of their stock holdings. It is not now as black and white. You’ll need stock growth to outpace inflation, so your equity allocation must be fine-tuned. Many retirees are working part time jobs to keep some cash coming in and minimize what they take from retirement accounts. If you’re earning enough to live on, you can even avoid taking any distributions, except those that are required. Be aware of how your income impacts your Social Security benefits and taxes, if you have already started to take benefits.

There are other advantages to working part time. It keeps you active and engaged with others, allows your mind to stay sharp and offers the opportunity to socialize with new people.

Finally, make sure your estate plan is in place. You should have a will, power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney. An estate planning attorney can help protect you and your family, regardless of when the next recession arrives.

Reference: Money (March 13, 2019) “This is the Best Way to Recession-Proof Your Retirement, According to Experts”

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