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Elder Law Estate Planning

Digital Assets in Estate Planning: The Brave New World of Estate Planning

“They say that every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath.” – Varys to Jon

“The master of coin must be frugal.”Varys to Eddard Stark

Cryptocurrency is almost mainstream, despite its complexity, says Insurance News Net in the article “Westchester County Elder Law Attorney Anthony J. Enea Sheds Light on Cryptocurrency in Estate Planning.” The IRS has made it clear that as far as federal taxation is concerned, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are to be treated as property. However, since cryptocurrency is not tangible property, how is it incorporated into an estate plan?

For starters, recordkeeping is extremely important for any cryptocurrency owner. Records need to be kept that are current and income taxes need to be paid on the transactions every single year. When the owner dies, the beneficiaries will receive the cryptocurrency at its current fair market value. The cost basis is stepped up to the date of death value and it is includable in the decedent’s taxable estate.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The name of the Bitcoin or cryptocurrency owner is not publicly recorded. Instead, ownership is tied to a specific Bitcoin address that can only be accessed by the person who holds two “digital keys.” These are not physical keys, but codes. One “key” is public, and the other key is private. The private key is the secret number that allows the spending of the cryptocurrency.

Both of these digital keys are stored in a “digital wallet,” which, just like the keys, is not an actual wallet but a system used to secure payment information and passwords. This is Digital Assets in Estate Planning: The Brave New World of Estate Planning.

One of the dangers of cryptocurrency is that unlike other financial assets, if that private key is somehow lost, there is no way that anyone can access the digital currency.

It should also be noted that cryptocurrency can be included as an asset in a last will and testament as well as a revocable or irrevocable trust. However, cryptocurrency is highly volatile, and its value may swing wildly.

The executor or trustee of an estate or trust must take steps to ensure that the estate or the trust is in compliance with the Prudent Investor Act. The holdings in the trust or the estate will need to be diversified with other types of investments. If this is not followed, even ownership of a small amount of cryptocurrency may lead to many issues with how the estate or trust was being managed.

Digital currency and digital assets are two relatively new areas for estate planning, although both have been in common usage for many years. As more boomers are dying, planning for these intangible assets has become more commonplace. Failing to have a plan or providing incorrect directions for how to handle digital assets, is becoming problematic for many individuals.

Speak with an estate planning attorney who has experience in digital and non-traditional assets to learn how to protect your heirs and your estate from losses associated with these new types of assets. To learn more about Digital Assets in Estate Planning: The Brave New World of Estate Planning please speak to estate planning attorney Frank Bruno, Jr.

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Estate Planning Guardianship

Creating an Estate Plan for a Child with Special Needs

“As special needs parents we don’t have the power to make life “fair,” but we do have the power to make life joyful.” Anonymous

“All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and someone who believes in them” Magic Johnson.

Parents want their children to be taken care of after they die. But children with special needs have increased financial and care needs, so ensuring their long-term welfare can be tricky. Proper planning by parents is necessary to benefit the child with a disability, including an adult child, as well as assist any siblings who may be left with the caretaking responsibility.

Special Needs Trusts

The best and most comprehensive option to protect a loved one is to set up a special needs trust (also called a supplemental needs trust). These trusts allow beneficiaries to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose their eligibility for certain government programs, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiaries in determining their eligibility for public benefits.

There are three main types of special needs trusts:

A first-party trust is designed to hold a beneficiary’s own assets. While the beneficiary is living, the funds in the trust are used for the beneficiary’s benefit, and when the beneficiary dies, any assets remaining in the trust are used to reimburse the government for the cost of medical care. These trusts are especially useful for beneficiaries who are receiving Medicaid, SSI or other needs-based benefits and come into large amounts of money, because the trust allows the beneficiaries to retain their benefits while still being able to use their own funds when necessary.

The third-party special needs trust is most often used by parents and other family members to assist a person with special needs. These trusts can hold any kind of asset imaginable belonging to the family member or other individual, including a house, stocks and bonds, and other types of investments. The third-party trust functions like a first-party special needs trust in that the assets held in the trust do not affect a beneficiary’s access to benefits and the funds can be used to pay for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs beyond those covered by government benefits. The key distinction is that a third-party special needs trust does not contain the “payback” provision found in first-party trusts. This means that when the beneficiary with special needs dies, any funds remaining in the trust can pass to other family members, or to charity, without having to be used to reimburse the government.

A pooled trust is an alternative to the first-party special needs trust. Essentially, a charity sets up these trusts that allow beneficiaries to pool their resources with those of other trust beneficiaries for investment purposes, while still maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs. When the beneficiary dies, the funds remaining in the account reimburse the government for care, but a portion also goes towards the non-profit organization responsible for managing the trust.

Life Insurance

Not everyone has a large chunk of money that can be left to a special needs trust, so life insurance can be an essential tool. If a special needs trust has been created, a life insurance policy can pay directly into it, and it does not have to go through probate or be subject to estate tax. Be sure to review the beneficiary designation to make sure it names the trust, not the child. You should make sure you have enough insurance to pay for your child’s care long after you are gone. Without proper funding, the burden of care may fall on siblings or other family members. Using a life insurance policy will also guarantee future funding for the trust while keeping the parents estate intact for other family members. When looking for life insurance, consider a second-to-die policy. This type of policy only pays out after the second parent dies, and it has the benefit of lower premiums than regular life insurance policies.

ABLE Account

An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account allows people with disabilities who became disabled before they turned 26 to set aside up to $15,000 a year in tax-free savings accounts without affecting their eligibility for government benefits. This money can come from the individual with the disability or anyone else who may wish to give him money.

Created by Congress in 2014 and modeled on 529 savings plans for higher education, these accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses of the account beneficiary, such as the costs of treating the disability or for education, housing and health care, among other things. ABLE account programs have been rolling out on a state-by-state basis, but even if your state does not yet have its own program, many state programs allow out-of-state beneficiaries to open accounts. (For a directory of state programs, click here.)

Although it may be easy to set up an ABLE account, there are many hidden pitfalls associated with spending the funds in the accounts, both for the beneficiary and for her family members. In addition, ABLE accounts cannot hold more than $100,000 without jeopardizing government benefits like Medicaid and SSI. If there are funds remaining in an ABLE account upon the death of the account beneficiary, they must be first used to reimburse the government for Medicaid benefits received by the beneficiary, and then the remaining funds will have to pass through probate in order to be transferred to the beneficiary & heirs.

Get Help With Your desire to Create an Estate Plan for a Child with Special Needs.

Creating an Estate Plan for a Child with Special Needs takes forethought, patience and a willingness to include caregivers in your plan. you decide to provide for a child with special needs, proper planning is essential. Talk to your attorney to determine the best plan for your family.

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Elder Law Estate Planning

What the Elder Law Estate Planning Attorney Needs to Know

“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.” Learned Hand

“In America, there are two tax systems: one for the informed and one for the uninformed. Both are legal.” Learned hand
If you went to a doctor’s office and did not tell the doctor what your symptoms were, it would be hard to get a good diagnosis and treatment. The same goes for a visit to the elder law estate planning attorney. Without all the necessary facts, advises the Times Herald-Record in the article “What you need to tell the elder law estate planning attorney,” the estate plan may need to be revised or created all over again, the inheritance may be given to people other than those you intended and there could be family conflicts.

Elder law is all about the issues that affect the elderly client. The planning for disability and incapacity, to include identifying the people who would make decisions for you, if you become incapacitated and protecting your hard-earned assets from the cost of nursing home care.

Estate planning is focused on transferring assets to the desired people, the way you want, when you want, with minimal court costs, taxes, or unnecessary legal fees and avoiding disputes over an inheritance. Here are some of the things your attorney will need to know, with full disclosure from you:

Family dynamics. Do you have a child out of wedlock? Are you part of a blended family or do you have a child you haven’t seen in years, you need to discuss the child. They may have a legal claim to your estate, and that must be planned for. Perhaps you want to include the child in the estate, perhaps you don’t. If you disinherit a child in a will and you die without a plan, that child becomes a necessary party to probate proceedings and has the right to contest your will.

Health issues are important to disclose. If you don’t have long-term care insurance, you need five years to protect assets in a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT). Therefore, now may be the time to start a plan. If you have a child who is disabled and receives government benefits, you can leave them money in a Special Needs Trust (SNT).

Full disclosure of all your assets, income, how assets are titled, who the beneficiaries are on your IRAs, 401(k)s and life insurance policies, are all the kinds of information needed to create a comprehensive estate plan. Keeping secrets during this process could lead to a wide variety of problems for your family. Your entire estate could be consumed by taxes, or the cost of nursing home care.

There’s no doubt of the seriousness of these issues. You or your spouse may experience some strong emotions, while discussing them with your attorney. However, creating a proper estate plan, preparing for incapacity and loved ones with special challenges will provide you with peace of mind.

One last point: an estate plan is like your home, requiring maintenance and updates. Once it is done, make a note in your schedule to review it every time there is a major life event or every three or four years. Laws change, and life changes. Your estate plan may also need to change.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 25, 2019) “What you need to tell the elder law estate planning attorney”

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Guardianship

Britney Spears: Guardianship Case

The case of Britney Spears’s guardianship is a high-profile, widely-publicized matter. However, even though Ms. Spears has been the hot topic of conversation on the news and in the media recently, very little is actually known about the details of her situation.

I have held every attorney position in the field of guardianship, often I am appointed to a role by the Judge overseeing the case. Other times a private client hires me and I have been Petitioner’s Counsel, Counsel for the Alleged Incapacitated Person, Court Evaluator, Guardian, and Court Examiner. After the Hearing I have even been the Attorney for the Incapacitated Person and also as a Referee to hear and determine issues in the case. Over my twenty five years of experience, I have encountered a number of cases with the same general premise as this one. Although much of Ms. Spears’s case has not been revealed to the public, in many ways her circumstances are not unique. Let’s start with what we do know.

When a person faces certain “functional limitations,” and it is alleged that they are incapacitated, legal action is taken to obtain a guardian who can take care of this person when they are unable to take care of themselves.

A functional limitation is any incapacity that puts the person in question, or those around them, in a position of danger. This can be due to debilitating mental illness, cognitive or developmental disability, mental or physical decline due to old age, or any other impairment that has prevented that person from functioning safely and independently in daily life.

As a result of a functional limitation, a person may be susceptible to abuse or neglect, which is why the courts take legal intervention to protect such vulnerable people.

In this case, it is unknown what specific “functional limitations” the judge established for Ms. Spears – that is up for speculation. We do know that Judge Brenda Penny, determined that Ms. Spears poses a danger to herself or others, based on a thorough examination of her state of wellbeing. As a result, she has been under a Conservatorship for the past thirteen years. Conservatorship is a legal concept whereby a court appoints a person to manage an incapacitated person or minor’s financial and personal affairs. New York has modified their laws so that Conservatorships are now Guardianships.

In any case, we can reserve judgement or hasty condemnation of anyone involved, including Britney Spears’s father. It is easy to make assumptions based on the limited information available to us.

Very few are privy to the full story, and in the meantime I will empathize with Ms. Spears and her family and respect their privacy, and I urge you to do the same. I have seen some truly tragic guardianship proceedings – one thing I am sure of is that it is impossible to know what is going on behind closed doors.

I wish the best for Ms. Spears and her family, and will be eagerly awaiting a swift and just resolution for all involved.