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Elder Law Estate Planning

Big Eight: Retirement Mistakes to Avoid

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” George Bernard Shaw.

“Living each day as if it were your last doesn’t mean your last day of retirement on a remote island. It means to live fully, authentically and spontaneously with nothing being held back.” Jack Canfield.

During our working lives, we have a cash flow called a “paycheck” that we rely on. A similar cash flow occurs when we retire and start the process of “deaccumulation” or creating income streams from sources that include our retirement funds. However, generating enough income to enjoy a comfortable retirement requires managing that cash flow successfully, says CNBC.com in the article “Here are 8 costly retirement mistakes to avoid.”

Big Eight: Retirement Mistakes to Avoid:

Preparing for the risk of a bear market. If markets take a nosedive the year you retire and you stick with your plan to withdraw four percent from your portfolio, your plan is no longer sustainable. Better: have an emergency fund in place, so you don’t have to tap investment accounts until the market recovers.

Investing with inflation in mind. We have been in such a low inflation environment for so long, that many have forgotten how devastating this can be to retirement portfolios. You may want to have some of your money in the market, so you can continue to get rates above any inflation. If inflation runs about 3.5% annually, a moderate portfolio returning 6% or 7% keeps up with inflation, even after withdrawals.

What about interest rates and inadequate returns on safer investments? This is a tricky one, requiring a balance between each person’s comfort zone and the need to grow investments. Current fixed-income returns lag behind historical performance. Some experts recommend that their clients look into high-dividend stocks, as an alternative to bond yields.

Be ready for longevity. Worries about outliving retirement savings are due to a longer overall life expectancy. There’s a good chance that many people alive today, will make it to 95. One strong tactic is to delay taking Social Security benefits until age 70, to maximize the monthly benefit.

NOT to dump stocks in a temporary downturn. Without strong stomachs and wise counsel, individual investors have a long history of dumping stocks when markets turn down, amplifying losses. We are emotional about our money, which is the worst way to invest. Try working with a financial advisor to remove the emotion from your investments.

Don’t withdraw too much too soon. It looks like a lot of money, doesn’t it? However, even 4% may be too much to take out from your investments and retirement accounts. It all depends upon what other sources of income you have and how markets perform. Be careful, unless going back to work in your seventies is on your bucket list.

Prepare for cognitive decline. This is way harder to conceive of than inflationary risks, but it becomes a real risk as we age. Even a modest level of age-related cognitive impairment, can make managing investments a challenge. Have a discussion with family members, your estate planning attorney and a financial advisor about deciding who will manage your investments, when you are no longer able.

Are you ready for health care costs? If at all possible, wait until 65 to retire, so you will be eligible for Medicare. Even when you have this coverage in place, there may still be considerable expenses that are not covered by Medicare. If you don’t have long-term care insurance, get it as soon as possible. In the event you are not qualified plan to qualify for medicaid to assist with long term care costs.

Please review the Big Eight: Retirement Mistakes to Avoid with your financial adviser and estate planning attorney.

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Elder Law Estate Planning Probate

Why Do I Need an Executor?

What would happen if someone you were close to, asked you to be their Executor? Would you be honored, or would you be uncomfortable with the responsibility? What do you need to do, when do you need to handle these tasks and how much time will it take?

These are the questions often asked about the role of an Executor, as reported in The Huntsville Item in the article “Role of an executor.”

A person having a will prepared is called the “Testator” if male and a “Testatrix” if female. The person they appoint to take care of distributing their assets and carrying out the instructions in their will is called the “Executor” if male and the “Executrix” if female. That person also pays the estate’s debts and taxes. Note that the debts and taxes are not paid from the Executor’s personal accounts, but from the proceeds of the estate.

Why Do I Need an Executor? The Executor has several responsibilities and power. Therefore, it’s important to choose an individual who is organized, good with finances and knows how to get things done. An Executor could be a person or an institution, like a bank. Here are some things to consider when selecting an Executor:

  • Are they good with handling their own personal business?
  • Do they have some familiarity with your business, finances and property?
  • Are they willing and able to act as your Executor?
  • Do they have the time to devote to serving as Executor?
  • Can they work with your estate planning attorney and your accountant?
  • If you own a business, will they be able to keep it going during a transition period?

There should always be a Plan “B” and perhaps even a Plan “C,” if the first person you wish either cannot or will not serve as Executor. If you do not have a Plan “B” or “C,” the court may name an Executor. That may be a person you don’t know, who does not know you, your family or your business.

Why Do I Need an Executor? The Executor’s tasks vary, depending upon the laws of the state. However, in general, these are the Executor’s tasks. Note that an estate planning attorney usually assists with this process.

  • The will is probated, which requires filing an application with the probate court in the decedent’s jurisdiction.
  • The court issues Letters Testamentary to the individual designated in the will as the Executor.
  • A general notice is given to unsecured creditors within 30 days of being appointed Executor.
  • Notice is given to each secured creditor, by certified or registered mail.
  • Documents need to be gathered, including insurance policies, bank statements, income tax returns, car titles, leases, home deeds, home titles, mortgage paperwork, property tax bills, birth, death and marriage certificates and unpaid bills.
  • The post office, relatives, friends, employers, insurance agents, religious, fraternal, veterans’ organizations, unions, etc., all need to be notified.
  • The personal property of the estate needs to be collected, preserved and appraised.
  • The residence needs to be secured and maintained, including a review of insurance coverage.
  • An inventory of the estate’s assets needs to be prepared.
  • The Executor needs to apply for Social Security benefits and an employee identification number (EIN) for the estate’s bank account.
  • Once the EIN number has been created, open a bank account on behalf of the estate and pay all valid debts from the estate account.
  • Determine any tax liability and prepare for a final tax return to be filed.
  • Distribute the assets and property of the estate, according to the directions in the will.

Usually the estate planning attorney handles many of these tasks and works closely with the Executor. Some Executors are compensated by the estate for their time and effort, but that is not always the case. Talk with your estate planning attorney in advance, about any compensation for your Executor.

Reference:

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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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Elder Law Estate Planning

How to Help Your Aging Parents Get Financial Benefits

If you notice your aging parent is struggling financially, you probably want to pitch in and help. Of course, doing so will mean that less money is available to pay your bills and save for your retirement. Your loved one’s money troubles could create economic stress for you and your children. It would be wonderful if you could find a pot of gold in the backyard, but we live in the real world. Here are some tips on how to help your aging parents get financial benefits.

The National Council on Aging: How to Help Your Aging Parents Get Financial Benefits

This National Council on Aging created a tool that will search through more than 2,000 federal, state, and private benefits programs across the United States. The search tool can connect your older loved one with assistance that can help pay for housing, medication, food, medical services, utilities, transportation and other necessities.

You can call 888-268-6706 to find a Benefits Enrollment Center in your area. An agency employee can help you at no charge to locate the benefits for which your parent is eligible. After you fill out a questionnaire, you will receive a detailed report listing all those programs and telling you how to apply. You can get application forms and assistance at the Benefits Enrollment Center.

If you prefer, you can do the search yourself online at BenefitsCheckUp.org. This search tool is free and confidential. Once you create the list of programs for which your parent qualifies, you can apply for benefits. Many of the forms are available at the enrollment centers or available online. Some programs require you to contact that entity directly to apply.

How the Benefits Locator Works: How to Help Your Aging Parents Get Financial Benefits

The online questionnaire will ask for information like your parent’s:

  • Date of Birth
  • Income
  • Assets
  • Expenses
  • ZIP Code
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Veteran Status

Your parent must be age 55 or older to use the locator tool. Allow about 15 minutes to complete the online intake form.

Types of Programs for Seniors: How to Help Your Aging Parents Get Financial Benefits

There are many government benefits for older Americans, but do not overlook private groups that assist people in need. Some people do not apply for Social Security retirement benefits, because they did not work for enough years to qualify for full retirement benefits.

Your loved one might qualify through a spouse’s work record or be eligible for partial benefits, based on his own limited work history. A few hundred dollars more a month can make enough of a difference that your parent does not need financial help from you.

Depending on several factors like income, age and geographic area, your older parent might qualify for:

  • Housing through HUD
  • Home repairs or weatherization
  • Transportation
  • Reduced real estate taxes
  • Financial management and budget counseling
  • Groceries through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and many regional and local food pantries, meal delivery programs for low-income or elderly people.
  • Prescription drugs through Part D Medicare coverage, Medicaid, the federal Low-Income Subsidy (also called Extra Help), drug manufacturers, and charitable groups.
  • Utility bill help, including discounts on heating and cooling bills
  • Monthly cash benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for very low-income seniors with few assets.

These are just some examples of the multitude of benefits programs available for seniors.

Every state makes its own regulations, so your state might vary from the general law of this article. Be sure to talk to the Law Office of Frank Bruno, Jr. an elder law attorney in New York.

References
HuffPost. “How to Find Financial Assistance for Elderly Parents.” (accessed October 9, 2019)

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Elder Law Estate Planning

Why Should I Create a Trust If I’m Not Rich?

“Your true assets are the collections of your quality moments on the earth.”
― Amit Ray, Mindfulness Living in the Moment – Living in the Breath

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. —Shannon Adler

It’s probably not high on your list of fun things to do, considering the way in which your assets will be distributed, when you pass away. However, consider the alternative, which could be family battles, unnecessary taxes and an extended probate process. These issues and others can be avoided by creating a trust.

Barron’s recent article, “Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich,” explains that there are many types of trusts, but the most frequently used for these purposes is a revocable living trust. This trust allows you—the grantor—to specify exactly how your estate will be distributed to your beneficiaries when you die, and at the same time avoiding probate and stress for your loved ones.

When you speak with an estate planning attorney about setting up a trust, also ask about your will, healthcare directives, a living will and powers of attorney.

Your attorney will have retitle your probatable assets to the trust. This includes brokerage accounts, real estate, jewelry, artwork, and other valuables. Your attorney can add a pour-over will to include any additional assets in the trust. Retirement accounts and insurance policies aren’t involved with probate, because a beneficiary is named.

While you’re still alive, you have control over the trust and can alter it any way you want. You can even revoke it altogether.
A revocable trust doesn’t require an additional tax return or other processing, except for updating it for a major life event or change in your circumstances. The downside is because the trust is part of your estate, it doesn’t give much in terms of tax benefits or asset protection. If that was your focus, you’d use an irrevocable trust. However, once you set up such a trust it can be difficult to change or cancel. The other benefits of a revocable trust are clarity and control— you get to detail exactly how your assets should be distributed. This can help protect the long-term financial interests of your family and avoid unnecessary conflict.

If you have younger children, a trust can also instruct the trustee on the ages and conditions under which they receive all or part of their inheritance. In second marriages and blended families, a trust removes some of the confusion about which assets should go to a surviving spouse versus the children or grandchildren from a previous marriage.

Trusts can have long-term legal, tax and financial implications, so it’s a good idea to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Barron’s (February 23, 2019) “Why a Trust Is a Great Estate-Planning Tool — Even if You’re Not Rich

If you ask yourself “should Create a Trust If I’m not Rich?” then these are the answers for you.

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Elder Law Estate Planning Guardianship

What a Durable Power of Attorney Can Do?

“Make sure you visualize what you really want, not what someone else wants for you.” Jerry Gillies

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Charles Dickens

Helping aging parents with daily tasks can become a challenge, if the parent has limited mobility. A trip to the bank, for example, will require coordinating the adult child’s responsibilities with the aging parent’s limitations. If the parent has more energy in the morning, for instance, but the adult child is working, this can become a bigger challenge than if the adult child can go to the bank on behalf of the parent, when it’s convenient for them — at a lunch break, for instance.

In this situation, as noted in The Daily Sentinel’s article “Tools to help your aging parent,” having a durable power of attorney will help. This type of power of attorney is a legal document that permits a child or other named individual to handle certain responsibilities, like banking. Granting a power of attorney to a child doesn’t mean giving up total control, which is often a concern of aging parents. It simply means that the child is now legally allowed to handle these tasks.

What a Durable Power of Attorney Can Do? A durable power of attorney is different than the “general medical power of attorney.” As implied by its name, this is limited to making decisions about the parent’s health care and is usually used only when the parent is not able to make these decisions on their own.

There are more serious situations, where neither of these types of power of attorney is enough, such as when the parent lacks capacity because of dementia or a medical decision. It is necessary to protect the parent from themselves or anyone who might try to take advantage of their lack of clear mental capacity. This may require that an adult child needs to be appointed as a guardian for their parent.

Being appointed a guardian can be a very emotional event, since the parent and child are not just switching emotional roles, but legal roles. The parent no longer has the capacity to make significant decisions, because a court has found that they no longer have that ability.

You may have heard the term “conservatorship” used. It is similar to guardianship, except that the conservatorship only allows for control over the parent’s financial affairs.

Guardianship is taken very seriously, as it should be. This removes an adult’s right to make any kind of decision on their own. In some states, including Colorado, the court must first be convinced that the parent is unable to effectively receive or evaluate information or to make or communicate decisions. They must be deemed incapacitated, before guardianship can be established. Once that standard has been met, then guardianship is established. If there is a doubt about incapacity, then no guardianship will be established, and the family is faced with finding other ways to help the aging parent.

What a Durable Power of Attorney Can Do is allow parents and their children to face many issues that are best addressed before incapacity becomes an issue. If the family does not have a plan for the aging parent’s care, it is recommended that the family make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to discuss the various options.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (March 24, 2019) “Tools to help your aging parent”

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