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Elder Law Estate Planning Guardianship

Dementia and Advanced Directive

The Roanoke Times advises in the recent article “What to do in absence of advance directive” to talk to an experienced elder care attorney to coordinate the necessary legal issues, when dementia may be at issue with a parent or other loved one. Next, ask your physician for a geriatric evaluation consultation for your loved one with a board-certified geriatrician and a referral to a social worker to assist in navigating the medical system.

It’s wise for anyone older than 55 to have advance directives in place, should they become incapacitated, so a trusted agent can fulfill the patient’s wishes in a dignified manner. Think ahead and plan ahead.

As a family’s planning starts, the issue of competence must be defined. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t necessarily indicate incompetence or a lack of capacity. At this point, a patient still has the right to make a decision—despite family members disagreeing with it. A patient’s competency should be evaluated after a number of poor choices or an especially serious choice that puts a patient or others at risk.

An evaluation will determine the patient’s factual understanding of concepts, decision-making and cogent expression of choices, the possible consequences of their choices and reasoning of the decision’s pros and cons. Healthcare professionals make the final determination, and these results are provided to the court.

If a patient passes the evaluation, she is deemed to have the mental capacity to make choices on her own. If she cannot demonstrate competency, an attorney can petition the court for a competency hearing, after which a trustee may be appointed to oversee her affairs.

The time to address these types of issues is before the patient becomes incapacitated. The family should clearly define and explore the topics of living wills, health care proxies, estate planning and powers of attorney now with an experienced elder law attorney.

Taking these proactive actions can be one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow upon herself and her loved ones. It can give a family peace of mind. If you put an advance directive in place, it can provide that gift when it’s needed the most.

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Elder Law Estate Planning

Are You Forgetting this Estate Planning Document?

Forbes’ recent article, “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document,” explains that a health care directive is a legal document in which an individual writes down his decisions for caregivers in the event of illness or dementia and makes instructions about end of life decisions. It can also provide guidance on how caregivers should handle the body after death.

Health care directives are also called living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, or medical directives, but they all serve the same function, which is to provide guidance and direction on how a person’s medical and death decisions should be made.

Despite the importance of a health care directive, a 2017 study found that only 33% of all Americans have one.

A critical decision in a health care directive is selecting an agent. This is a proxy who acts on your behalf to make decisions that are consistent with your wishes. It’s important to pick an individual whose values are aligned with yours. This is your advocate on decisions, like if you want to have treatment continued or just be kept comfortable in palliative care.

Once you choose an agent, review your directive with her. This will give her guidance if and when the need for her to step in arises.

The agent’s role in the health care directive doesn’t end at death but continues to ensure that your post-mortem wishes are carried out. When the person dies, the agent takes control of the body. Prior to funeral plans, the agent must make certain that any organ donation wishes are carried out. This decision is usually shown on a person’s driver’s license, but it’s also re-stated in the health care directive.

After the donation wishes are carried out, the agent helps to make sure funeral wishes are handled properly. These instructions can be detailed in the health care directive.
Are You Forgetting this Estate Planning Document? With a health care directive put in place, you make things easier for your family and loved ones.

Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”

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You Need a Power of Attorney in Your Estate Plan

A power of attorney is an important legal document that allows a person, known as the principal, to designate a person of their choice to become their agent, acting on their behalf. This is usually done when the principal is unable to manage their financial affairs due to disability, illness or incapacity. It must be done while the principal is still competent, notes Delco Times in the article “What’s the difference between guardianship and power of attorney?” There are also instances when power of attorney is used when the principal is unable to conduct their own affairs, because they are traveling or are deployed overseas.

Related documents are the health care power of attorney and the durable power of attorney. A durable financial power of attorney is a document where the principal designates the powers that the agent may exercise over their finances. The powers granted by this document can be used by the agent, regardless of the principal’s capacity or disability.

The principal has the option to grant very broad authority to their agent. For instance, the principal could give their agent the authority to gift all their assets, while they are still living. That’s why it is very important for the specific provisions in the power of attorney to be carefully reviewed and tailored to the principal’s wishes. There are risks in naming an agent, since they are able to exercise complete control over the principal’s assets. The agent must be 100% trustworthy.

A health care power of attorney allows an agent to make decisions about the principal’s health. Note that this document is operative only when a copy is provided to the attending physician, and the physician determines that the principal is incompetent.

Both health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney may be revoked by the principal at any time and for any reason.

If the principal has not had these documents prepared in advance and then becomes incompetent by reason of injury, illness, or mental health issues, they may not have the legal right to sign the power of attorney. When this happens, it is necessary for a guardianship proceeding to occur, so that other people may be named to take charge of the person’s financial and health affairs. Advance planning is always preferred.

If an individual is born with a disability that impacts their capacity and upon attaining legal age, does not have the capacity to sign a power of attorney, then a guardianship proceeding will be necessary. The court must determine if the person is truly incapacitated and if there might be an alternative to appointing a guardian. Once the guardian is appointed, the principal no longer has the legal right to make decisions on their own behalf.

A guardianship is a much more restrictive tool than a power of attorney. For one thing, the power of attorney generally does not need the involvement of the court. There is always the possibility that a guardian is appointed who does not know the family or the individual. A durable power of attorney allows a person to appoint someone they know and trust to help them and their family, if and when they become incapacitated.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about how power of attorney works, and when guardianship issues might arise. Being prepared in advance by having the right documents in place, is always better than having the family going to court and hoping that the right decisions are made.
Reference: Delco Times (May 8, 2019) “What’s the difference between guardianship and power of attorney?”

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Elder Law Estate Planning

What’s the Difference Between a Life Estate and an Irrevocable Trust?

What’s the Difference Between a Life Estate and an Irrevocable Trust? Investopedia’s recent article asks “Life Estate vs. Irrevocable Trust: What’s the Difference?” The article explains that a life estate and an irrevocable trust are two different ways to make certain that assets are transferred to the right party. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages.

A life estate that’s used to gift property will divide the ownership between the giver and receiver. Some parents create a life estate to reduce their assets to qualify for Medicaid. While the parent still has some interest in the property, Medicaid doesn’t count it as an asset. A life estate lasts for the lifetime of its creator and it prohibits the selling of the asset, without the permission of its beneficiaries. Therefore, a parent can’t sell a home without the permission of his children, if they are beneficiaries of the life estate.

If you’re attempting to be eligible for Medicaid and are concerned that your home will disqualify you, ask your estate planning or Medicaid planning attorney about an irrevocable trust. With this trust, if a husband and wife both own a home, the husband can transfer his portion to his wife, and his Medicaid eligibility won’t include the home.

There must be a five-year gap between the creation of the trust and the application for Medicaid. If there isn’t, those funds will be counted as part of existing assets when determining Medicaid eligibility. Therefore, you can’t start an irrevocable trust right before you apply for Medicaid if you want to receive those benefits.

One negative of an irrevocable trust is that the founder of the trust relinquishes any rights he has to the home. However, the beneficiary of the trust can’t sell the home, unless he or she is also named as a trustee. Once an irrevocable trust has been created, the trustee can’t take back control of the trust.

Remember that a life estate and an irrevocable trust aren’t always mutually exclusive. It’s possible to place an asset (like a home) in an irrevocable trust and keep a life estate. In that case, you’re irrevocably transferring ownership of your house to the trust. However, you still keep control. In this case, you are permitted to sell the home, remodel, or rent out a room, but the house itself—or the sales proceeds from it—would remain in the irrevocable trust.

In this situation, a parent would also not risk giving their children part of the tax liability that is associated with owning a home. The parent would keep more personal control over the house and wouldn’t need their child’s permission to sell the home. This may be the best option because it would still allow the parents to apply for Medicaid and not have the property count in their assets, but he or she would remain the sole decision-maker for the house.

What’s the Difference Between a Life Estate and an Irrevocable Trust? Both have their pros and cons, but a combination of the two can often be the best answer. Make no moves either way, without the advice of an experienced elder law attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (June 16, 2019) “Life Estate vs. Irrevocable Trust: What’s the Difference?”

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“Life Estate vs. Irrevocable Trust: What’s the Difference?”

Do I Need a Living Trust or a Will? Or Both?

“Tax planning is one element of estate planning, and in many estates is the least important factor. The larger issue is: Who will inherit and what will they inherit?” First National Trust Update April 2015

“A man of 70 need not be always feeling, much less talking, about his approaching death, but a wise man of 70 should always take it into account. …He would be criminally foolish not to make, indeed not to have made long since, his will.” C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Do I need a living trust or a will? Or both? This is just one of the reasons people think they want a trust: to ensure that the value of their overall estate will not decrease, because of the cost of probate. The most common way to do that is with a trust, says The Houston Chronicle in the article “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

In some states, probate is not an expensive or overly time-consuming issue. Texas, for example, has what is called an independent administration. Executors handle the tasks involved in settling an estate and distributing assets to beneficiaries. As a result, there’s very little court involvement. However, New York does not have that process and as a result probate has extensive court involvement. An estate planning attorney in your area will be able to explain the details of your state’s procedures and discuss whether a trust is right for your estate. They’ll also explain the difference between different types of trusts.

The trust most frequently used to avoid probate, is known as a revocable trust, living trust or an “inter vivos” trust.

Selecting the best type of trust for each situation is different. Here are some advantages of living trusts:

Avoiding probate. The cost of probate alone is not reason enough to use a trust. However, if your assets are in trusts, you may not need to file an inventory listing your assets with the court. That’s not always required in every jurisdiction, but if it is required where you live, a trust can help keep your asset list private, by ensuring that it is only seen by beneficiaries.

Asset management for incapacity. A living trust goes into effect, while you are alive. If you become incapacitated, an alternate trustee can step in to manage assets, pay bills and ensure that finances are taken care of.

Avoiding probate in another state. If you own out-of-state property, your estate may need to be probated in your home state and in the other state. If you have a living trust, out-of-state parcels of land can be deeded into the trust during your lifetime, thus avoiding the need for probate in another state. After your passing, your trustee can handle the out-of-state property in the living trust.

Administrative ease. There are, unfortunately, instances when Power of Attorney can be challenged by financial institutions. The authority of a trustee is more likely to be recognized, by banks, investment companies, etc.

There are some questions about whether it’s better to have a living trust or a will. The most complex part of having a living trust, is the process of funding the trust. It is imperative for the trust to work, that every asset you own is either transferred into the trust or retitled into the name of the trust. If assets are left out or incorrectly funded, then probate will probably be necessary. This can occur, even if only one single asset is left out.

If an asset is controlled by beneficiary designation, then the trust may not need to be named a beneficiary, should you want it to pass directly to one or more beneficiaries.

Funding the trust becomes complicated, when retirement accounts are involved. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney, if you want to make the trust a designated beneficiary of a retirement account. This is because very specific and complex rules may limit the ability to “stretch” the distributions from the account.

Using a trust instead of a will-based plan is growing in popularity, but it should never be an automatic decision. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain the pros and cons of each strategy and help you and your family decide which is better for you and what advanced directives are required.

Reference: The Houston Chronicle (Feb. 15, 2019) “Elder Law: Which should I have—A Living trust or a will?”

3. owning a home – https://www.frankbrunolaw.com/property-transfers-and-gift-taxes-basics/

Property Transfers and Gift Taxes: Basics.

As we age, our needs change. That includes our needs for the property that we own. For one person, the family home was rented to the daughter and her spouse as a “rent-to-own” property. This is generous, since it gives the daughter an opportunity to build equity in a home. The parent had questions about what kind of a deed would be needed for this transaction, and if any gift taxes need to be paid on the gift of the house and a separate parcel of land. The answers are presented in the article “Dealing with property transfers and gift taxes” from Chicago Tribune.

For starters, there are tax advantages while the person is living, since the home is an investment for the owner, as described above. On the day that the home is deeded over to the daughter, she will own the home at the cost basis of the parent. Here is why. The IRS defines the “cost basis” of a real estate property as the price that the owner paid for it, plus the cost of purchase and any fees associated with the sale plus the cost of any new materials or structural improvements.

When you give someone a home, they receive it at the price that was paid for it plus these costs.

Let’s say this person paid $50,000 for the family home, and it’s now worth $700,000. If you give the home to a family member, it’s as if she paid $50,000 for it, not $700,000. There may be tax consequences when she goes to sell it, but that’s in the distant future.

It’s different if the home is inherited. In that case, if the house was valued at $700,000 on the date that the owner died, the heir’s cost basis would be $700,000. However, if the heir sold the property on the exact same day (this is an unlikely scenario), there would be no tax owed on the sale for the heir.

This is a very simplified explanation of how a home can be passed from one generation to the next. It would be best to speak with a good estate attorney, who can evaluate all the factors, since every situation is different. One suggestion might be to put the property into a living trust, in which case the daughter will still pay rent to the parent, but then would inherit the property when the parent died.

The estate planning attorney could use the same living trust for the separate parcel of land. Once the home and the land are deeded into the living trust, the owner can state her wishes for how the properties are to be used.

As for the question of gift taxes, anyone can give anyone else $15,000 per year, with no need to file any forms with the IRS or pay any taxes. If you give someone more than $15,000 in one year, the IRS requires a gift tax form with the federal income tax return.

A meeting with an estate planning attorney to discuss Property Transfers and Gift Taxes: Basics is the best way to ensure that the transfer of a family home to a family member is handled correctly and that there are no surprises.

Reference: Chicago Tribune (April 23, 2019) “Dealing with property transfers and gift taxes”

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Estate Planning Probate

How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan?

How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan? A trust can be a useful tool for passing on assets, allowing them to be held by a responsible trustee for beneficiaries. However, determining which type of trust is best for each family’s situation and setting them up so they work with an estate plan, can be complex. You’ll do better with the help of an estate planning attorney, says The Street in the article “How to Set Up a Trust Fund: What You Need to Know.”

Depending upon the assets, a trust can help avoid estate taxes that might make the transfer financially difficult for those receiving the assets. The amount of control that is available with a trust, is another reason why they are a popular estate planning tool.

First, make sure that you have enough assets to make using a trust productive. There are some tax complexities that arise with the use of trusts. Unless there is a fair amount of money involved, it may not be worth the expense. Once you’ve made that decision, it’s time to consider what type of trust is needed.

Revocable Trusts are trusts that can be changed. If you believe that you will live for a long time, you may want to use a revocable trust, so you can make changes to it, if necessary. Because of its flexibility, you can change beneficiaries, terminate the trust, or leave it as is. You have options. Once you die, the revocable trust becomes irrevocable and distributions and assets shift to the beneficiaries.

A revocable trust avoids probate for the trust, but will be counted as part of your “estate” for estate tax purposes. They are includable in your estate, because you maintain control over them during your lifetime.

They are used to help manage assets as you age, or help you maintain control of assets, if you don’t believe the trustees are not ready to manage the funds.

Irrevocable Trusts cannot be changed once they have been implemented. If estate taxes are a concern, it’s likely you’ll consider this type of trust. The assets are given to the trust, thus removing them from your taxable estate.

Deciding whether to use an irrevocable trust is not always easy. You’ll need to be comfortable with giving up complete control of assets.

These are just two of many different types of trusts. There are trusts set up for distributions to pay college expenses, Special Needs Trusts for disabled individuals, charitable trusts for philanthropic purposes and more. Your estate planning attorney will be able to identify what trusts are most appropriate for your situation.

Here’s how to prepare for your meeting with an estate planning attorney:

List all of your assets. List everything you might want to place in a trust: including accounts, investments and real estate.

List beneficiaries. Include primary and secondary beneficiaries.

Map out the specifics. Who do you want to receive the assets? How much do you want to leave them? You should be as detailed as possible.

Choose a trustee. You’ll need to name someone you trust implicitly, who understands your financial situation and who will be able to stand up to any beneficiaries who might not like how you’ve structured your trust. It can be a professional, if there are no family members or friends who can handle this task.

Don’t forget to fund the trust. This last step is very important. The trust document does no good, if the trusts are not funded. You may do better letting your estate planning attorney handle this task, so that accounts are properly titled with assets and the trusts are properly registered with the IRS.

How Do Trusts Work in Your Estate Plan? Creating a trust fund can be a complex task. However, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, this strategy can yield a lifetime of benefits for you and your loved ones.

Reference: The Street (July 22, 2019) “How to Set Up a Trust Fund: What You Need to Know”

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What are the “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

What are the “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

“Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today” Abraham Lincoln

“There is nothing like the death of a moneyed member of the family to show persons as they really are, virtuous or conniving, generous or grasping. Many a family has been torn apart by a botched-up will. Each case is a drama in human relationships — and the lawyer, as counselor, draftsman, or advocate, is an important figure in the dramatis personae. This is one reason the estates practitioner enjoys his work, and why we enjoy ours.” Jesse Dukeminier and Stanley M. Johanson, introduction to 1972 edition of Family Wealth Transactions: Wills, Trust, Future Interests, and Estate Planning.

What do Aretha Franklin, Kurt Cobain, and Prince have in common? Aside from being famous and talented, each of these stars passed away without a will. All three had the money and attorneys to draft a proper estate plan, but for whatever reason, they didn’t draft one. It’s a good lesson to not neglect your estate plan.

Motley Fool reports in the article, “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year,” that dying without a will creates numerous problems for your family. If there are no legal instructions in place, probate law dictates the distribution of your assets and selection of guardians for your minor children, which can cause problems. Regardless of your personal situation, you should think about creating these three important estate planning documents.

Will. A will is used to distribute your estate, according to your instructions. A will can say how much and what type of asset each heir will receive, to minimize family fighting after your death. If you have young children, you can designate guardians in your will to be in charge of their care. If you die without a will, the probate judge will order who becomes their guardian.

You also need a will to make charitable bequests, to expedite the probate court process and to reduce or eliminate estate taxes. When you draft your will, you’ll appoint trusted people to serve as the executor and the trustee.

Living will. A living will can take effect while you are still alive. This is a legal document that sets out your instructions for medical treatment, if you become unable to communicate, such as whether or not you want to be placed on life support. A living will can relieve the emotional burden from your family of having to make difficult decisions.

Power of attorney. This legal document helps in the event you’re incapacitated or in the hospital in an unresponsive state. A power of attorney gives the individual you designate the authority to transact financial and legal matters on your behalf. Set up a power of attorney, before you need it. If you don’t and you’re unable to make decisions, your family may have to petition the court to get those powers, which costs time and money.

Estate planning is a huge favor that you’re doing for your family. Get these three legal documents in place.

ReferenceMotley Fool (February 18, 2019) “3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents To Get Done This Year”

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