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Estate Planning Guardianship

Parents Want Their Children To Be Taken Care Of After They Die

There are many legal strategies involved in estate planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, durable powers of attorney, and health care documents. New clients often say that they do not have an estate plan. Most people are surprised to learn that they actually do have a plan. In the absence of legal planning otherwise, their estate will be distributed after death according to New York’s laws of intestacy. Of course, this may not be the plan they would have chosen. A properly drafted estate plan will replace the terms of the New York’s estate plan with your own. Reach out to your local Queens County estate planning attorney to create your estate plan.

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YOUR LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT – Your last will and testament is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. If a person dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate” and state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed. Some things you should know about wills:

A will has no legal authority until after death. So, a will does not help manage a person’s affairs when they are incapacitated, whether by illness or injury.

A will does not help an estate avoid probate. A will is the legal document submitted to the probate court, so it is basically an “admission ticket” to probate.

A will is a good place to nominate the guardians (or back-up parents) of your minor children if they are orphaned. All parents of minor children should document their choice of guardians. If you leave this to chance, you could be setting up a family battle royal, and your children could end up with the wrong guardians.

TRUSTS: REVOCABLE LIVING TRUSTS, IRREVOCABLE TRUSTS, TESTAMENTARY TRUSTS, SPECIAL NEEDS TRUSTS, ETC. – Trusts come in many “flavors,” they can be simple or complex, and serve a variety of legal, personal, investment or tax planning purposes. At the most basic level, a trust is a legal entity with at least three parties involved: the trust-maker, the trustee (trust manager), and the trust beneficiary. Oftentimes, all three parties are represented by one person or a married couple. In the case of a revocable living trust, for example, a person may create a trust (the trust-maker) and name themselves the current trustees (trust managers) who manage the trust assets for their own benefit (trust beneficiary).

Depending on the situation, there may be many advantages to establishing a trust, including avoiding probate court. In most cases, assets owned in a revocable living trust will pass to the trust beneficiaries (or heirs) immediately upon the death of the trust-maker(s) with no probate required. Certain trusts also may result in tax advantages both for the trust-maker and the beneficiary. Or they may be used to protect property from creditors, or simply to provide for someone else to manage and invest property for the trust-maker(s) and the named beneficiaries. If well drafted, another advantage of trusts is their continuing effectiveness even if the trust-maker dies or becomes incapacitated.

POWERS OF ATTORNEY – A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person (the attorney-in-fact) the legal right (powers) to do certain things for you. What those powers are depends on the terms of the document. A power of attorney may be very broad or very limited and specific. All powers of attorney terminate upon the death of the maker, and may terminate when the maker (principal) becomes incapacitated (unable to make or communicate decisions). When the intent is to designate a back-up decision-maker in the event of incapacity, then a durable power of attorney should be used. Durable Powers of Attorney should be frequently updated because banks and other financial institutions may hesitate to honor a power of attorney that is more than a year old.

HEALTH CARE DOCUMENTS (OR ADVANCE DIRECTIVES) – An advance directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive, and this document is legally binding in NY. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery.

A document that goes hand-in-hand with your advance directive is an authorization to your medical providers to allow specified individuals to access your medical information. Without this authorization, your doctor may refuse to communicate with your hand-picked decision maker.

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Elder Law Estate Planning

Even a Late Start toward Retirement Planning is Better than None at All

“There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.” Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

“The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off.” Abe Lemons

There are also people who wait until they become senior citizens to begin planning for retirement. That’s a little on the late side, but the important thing, says the article “Retirement Planning: Start now to help Social Security, Medicare” from Martinsville Bulletin, is to get started. That’s better than doing nothing.

It’s easier if you start earlier. Let’s consider the high school student who diligently puts away 10% of a $7.25 per hour gross minimum wage earning for a year on an average 20-hour work week. That’s $750 into a retirement plan after one year. If that student never went to college, never learned a trade, got a raise or a promotion, they would still have $34,500 in personal savings in 46 years. And since minimum wage increased those number swell to $1,560.00 for one year and $71,760.00. It’s not a lot, as retirement savings go, but it’s better than nothing.

If the same high school student put those savings into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), more would have been saved. The more time your money has to grow through compounding, the more money you’ll have.

Saving a little money every month could make a big difference later on. This year, the average monthly Social Security benefit rounds out at about $1,460 per person, calculated by combining a worker’s highest paid years in the workplace. That’s not enough for retirement. The answer? Start saving early.

It is not as easy to build a nest egg in a few years, but it’s possible.

Many people don’t wake up to the reality of retirement, until they reach age 62. There’s still time to plan. They can put money into IRA accounts, and at age 62 they can save as much as $7,000. Those IRA contributions count as tax deductions.

Roth IRAs are a little more flexible, but there are no tax deductions with contributions. On the plus side, when money is withdrawn, you’re not paying taxes on the withdrawals.
Another important planning point for seniors: if you’ve had health issues, it’s a good idea to keep working to maintain your employee health insurance. The healthier you are, the lower your health insurance costs will be during retirement. However, health costs do tend to increase with age, so that has to be factored into your retirement planning.

For people who take a lot of medication to control chronic conditions, they’ll need to look into health insurance outside of the workplace. That usually means Medicare. Most seniors are eligible for free Medicare hospital insurance, which is Part A of a four-part option, if they have worked and paid Medicare taxes.

Part A helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility after a hospital stay, some home health care and hospice care. Part B helps to pay for doctors and a variety of other services. Part C allows HMO, PPO and other health care organizations to offer health insurance plans for Medicare beneficiaries. Part D provides prescription drug benefits through private insurance companies.

The Social Security Administration advises people to apply for Medicare three months before they celebrate their 65th birthday, regardless of whether they plan to start receiving retirement benefits right away.

Whether you’re 27 or 57, you need to plan for retirement. You also need to have an estate plan, and that means making the time to meet with an experienced estate planning professional to discuss your life and your retirement plans. You’ll need their guidance to create a will and other documents.

Advance planning will always be better than waiting until the last minute, for retirement and estate planning.

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Estate Planning Guardianship

Top 6 Questions (and Answers) about Conservatorships and Guardianships

When someone becomes incapacitated due to illness, injury or disability, the court appoints a guardian to handle healthcare and certain non-financial decisions for that person. A guardian can be anyone over the age of 18, but must also be able to show that they are qualified to make these decisions for their loved one. A guardian is not necessarily the person who is the caregiver over the incapacitated individual.

What is a conservator?

A conservator is appointed by the court to make financial decisions for an incapacitated person. In some states, those who are appointed “conservator of the estate” are those who make financial decisions.

Those who are appointed “conservator of the person” handle the same issues as a “guardian.” Conservators can be expensive, as is the process to obtain one. There is also the potential that the incapacitated individual may be taken advantage of. To avoid a conservatorship, designate a power of attorney for your financial and medical care.
New York uses the frame of guardian for person or for the property and one person can be both.
Does my elderly loved one need a guardian?
If your family member is unable to make healthcare or financial decisions on her own, due to an injury following an accident, an illness, or disability, and she has not designated a healthcare power of attorney, she will need a guardian.
When is a conservator more appropriate than a guardian?
In some cases, someone may be perfectly capable of making her own healthcare decisions, but are unable to manage her finances. In this case, a conservator would be more appropriate. If an individual cannot make financial or healthcare decisions, both may be appropriate.
Who does the court appoint as guardian or conservator?
A court will appoint the person it deems most competent to fill the role of conservator or guardian. In general, the person must be over the age of 18. The court’s first choice is a spouse, or other close family member. If none of those is available or is unwilling to serve, then they may consider extended family or friends. If those are unwilling or unavailable, then the court will appoint a neutral third party, such as an attorney, to act as conservator or guardian. In New York, the Court maintains a list of qualified persons for that role.
How do I relinquish guardianship over my wife?
To relinquish guardianship over any loved one, you must go to court and petition to do so. It is best if you have someone else in mind to take over when you submit your petition, to ensure your loved one’s needs are met.

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Elder Law Estate Planning

Here’s Why a Basic Form Doesn’t Work for Estate Planning

It’s true that an effective estate plan should be simple and straightforward, if your life is simple and straightforward. However, few of us have those kinds of lives. For many families, the discovery that a will that was created using a basic form is invalid leads to all kinds of expenses and problems, says The Daily Sentinel in an article that asks “What is wrong with using a form for my will or trust?”

If the cost of an estate plan is measured only by the cost of a document, a basic form will, of course, be the least expensive option — on the front end. On the surface, it seems simple enough. What would be wrong with using a form?

Actually, a lot is wrong. The same things that make a do-it-yourself, basic form will seems to be attractive, are also the things that make it very dangerous for your family. A form does not take into account the special circumstances of your life. If your estate is worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars, that form could end up putting your estate in the wrong hands. That’s not what you had intended.

Another issue: any basic form will that is valid in all 50 states is probably not going to serve your purposes. If it works in all 50 states (and that’s highly unlikely), then it is extremely general, so much so that it won’t reflect your personal situation. It’s a great sales strategy, but it’s not good for an estate plan.

If you take into consideration the amount of money to be spent on the back end after you’ve passed, that $100 will becomes a lot more expensive than what you would have invested in having a proper estate plan created by an estate planning attorney.

What you can’t put into dollars and cents, is the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your estate plan, including a will, power of attorney, and health care power of attorney, has been properly prepared, that your assets will go to the individuals or charities that you want them to go to, and that your family is protected from the stress, cost and struggle that can result when wills are deemed invalid.

Here’s one of many examples of how the basic, inexpensive form created chaos for one family. After the father died, the will was unclear, because it was not prepared by a professional. The father had properly filled in the blanks but used language that one of his sons felt left him the right to significant assets. The family became embroiled in expensive litigation, and became divided. The litigation has ended, but the family is still fractured. This was not what their father had intended.

Other issues that are created when forms are used: naming the proper executor, guardians and conservators, caring for companion animals, dealing with blended families, addressing Payable-on-Death (POD) accounts and end-of-life instructions, to name just a few.

Avoid the “repair” costs and meet with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state to create an estate plan that will suit your needs.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (May 25, 2019) “What is wrong with using a form for my will or trust?”