June 14, 2018
Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain And Estate Planning When You Are Separated
The recent tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had more in common than how they died. They were both separated from their spouses that the time of their deaths. While by all accounts these separations were amicable, the fact that they were not legally divorced can lead to a host of estate planning issues.
When spouses decide to divorce, the usual framework is a process involving attorneys and the court system. But as modern family life is complex, it is becoming more common for spouses to remain permanently separated yet not divorced. It's a state of gray that many feel comfortable in. Unfortunately for both family law and estate law, it's a hard place to be.
Just how many couples in the U.S. permanently separate versus divorce is not clear. Most researchers find the U.S. divorce rate hovers somewhere between 42% to 45%. However, when permanent separations are factored in, it is estimated that the rate is really 50%.
The Gray Area of Permanent Separation
While the details of Kate Spade's separation are not known, Bourdain's separation from his second wife are well documented. In fact, Bourdain's situation is a common one. He and his estranged spouse were together for years. But work and other commitments caused them to move in separate directions. Yet they had a child - one beloved by both parents - and they wanted to co-parent successfully together.
This is not an atypical situation. Many put the feelings of the family ahead of their own personal wants. Bourdain even mentioned this to People
magazine in 2016 in relation to the separation when he said, "As a family, I think we've done a really good job and we're doing a really good job and would like to keep it that way."
But now after his untimely death, it brings up an odd aspect - his estranged spouse is his beneficiary. She will be the owner of his legacy. And in terms of immediate issues, she controls his body and his funeral.
His mother Gladys Bourdain noted to the media that she was unsure of funeral plans yet as his estranged spouse is still legally his next of kin. She was quoted as saying, "Although they are separated, she'll be in charge of whatever happens."
Spousal Rights Still Stand In A Separation
While this might be acceptable for the Bourdain family, in the event you consider a permanent separation, it may be prudent to consider the pros and cons of an estranged spouse's rights.
Upon marriage, spouses are given a bundle of rights that were previously unavailable to them in their single status with their partner. In fact, it is estimated that there are approximately 1,138 laws in which marital status provides an enormous amount of rights and privileges. These rights are as wide-ranging as Social Security benefits to spousal privilege in court to inheritance rights.
Separation does not mean your spousal rights are immediately extinguished. Only a final divorce decree can fully terminate spousal rights. In the event of a death prior to a divorce, in most situations the surviving spouse will have control in the legal arena.
Precautions That Can Be Taken
Even if your separation is amicable, there are a few steps you might want to consider. First, if you want to make sure someone other than your estranged spouse is able to plan your funeral, you need to have a new Health Care Directive put in place. A Health Care Directive or Proxy is a legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are unable to make such decisions as well as handle the disposition of the body in the event of death. This document is state specific. Unlike changing beneficiary designations or your estate plan in a divorce proceeding, you are permitted to make a new directive and you are not required to name your spouse.
If you make such a change, it is important that you alert the key people. "It is generally best practice for you to include your funeral plans in your health care directive and make sure the relevant people have copies of it. Especially when there is separation," says Paula Leibovitz Goodwin, partner in the Personal Planning Group at Perkins Coie LLP in San Francisco, California.
Further, communication is especially key where the separation will be permanent. You and your estranged spouse need to think through all the areas where spousal rights exist. It should be part of your planning process as you work through separation issues.
But strong communication should not end there. Leibovitz Goodwin explains: "Make sure your family law attorney and estate planning attorney also communicate with each other. People need to understand what is happening on both ends of the planning."
A Separate Peace
Ultimately when a couple is splitting up, they need to find the right way to move forward - whether divorcing or permanently separating. But rather than avoid key issues, the best separation plans might entail deeper planning and an update of your health care directive.
Leibovitz Goodwin sums it up well. "Don't be afraid to change your health care directive as a stop-gap issue. Too many people feel they need to do estate planning when they are ready to tackle all the potential issues. When your life settles down, you can deal with those issues. You can take care of this interim time period."
And in the cases of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, let's hope they find the peace in death that they so wished for in life.
Link to original article
May 25, 2018
Life After Your Death? Here's Why You Should Have a Trust
By Elizabeth Olson
Everyone needs a will, but, increasingly, estate planners say people also could benefit from setting up a trust while they are alive. That step would help assure that their assets are distributed more quickly, their bills paid promptly and continuously and personal information about property and other assets be kept out of the public eye.
Trusts have often been thought of as vehicles for wealthy people to dispose of their businesses, art work and other high-value items. But estate planners like Gerard F. Joyce Jr. of Fiduciary Trust Company International, the private wealth division of Franklin Templeton Investments, say certain types of trusts can be useful for those who are not ultra-wealthy.
One of those is a revocable trust, which can be changed in a person's lifetime. "It is the workhorse of modern estate planning," said Mr. Joyce, who is also a lawyer. "A properly funded revocable trust can avoid the need for a public probate court proceeding after death that can take time and keep money from being immediately available."
And "a trust makes sure that bills are paid during the person's lifetime even when the person is incapacitated," he said.
The number of people who may lack the capacity to control their own affairs is growing because people are living longer and the number of individuals who have dementia or Alzheimer's is rising, added Stacy K. Mullaney, chief fiduciary officer of Fiduciary Trust Company, a Boston-based wealth management company that shares a similar name but is an independent entity.
"We are seeing more situations where people need this assistance," said Ms. Mullaney. Currently, 5.5 million Americans are estimated to have Alzheimer's, and the disease is the fifth-leading cause of death for adults aged 65 and over, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"If assets that have been titled in one name are retitled in the name of the trust, the bills keep being paid without interruption in the person's lifetime," said Ms. Mullaney, who is also a lawyer.
And that can apply to any situation where financial support is given to family members, she added.
"Many grandparents, for example, pay for the college education of their grandchildren, but an incapacity can interrupt that. A trust would make sure that the tuition is paid."
Unlike an irrevocable trust, where assets are dispersed with a greater permanency, a revocable trust can be altered during the holder's lifetime if he or she decides to handle their assets differently. If a person's financial situation changes, or realizes he or she has simply made a mistake, the individual can close the trust and void the arrangement.
The trust "really does almost everything a will does, but it is more of a private document, and it is not subject to outsider review or approval," Mr. Joyce said. A will, he noted, can need approval from a court, and changes typically involve additional court scrutiny. Each state has its own laws and rules.
There can be catches to trusts, however. The trust is controlled by the person who sets it up, and often the person will choose one or more co-trustees to help manage the trust. That choice is where things can get tricky.
Choosing a trustee is not just about someone you trust. Knowing how to invest is a key skill for a trustee, estate planners agree.
"Probably the most important decision in picking a trustee is the ability to invest over the long term," Mr. Joyce said. "It's common to have a surviving spouse or a child, but it needs to be someone with the time and inclination to do that well."
While irrevocable trusts are often used for tax planning, Ms. Mullaney said, "revocable trusts are really about life planning."
May 17, 2018
Elder Law Guys: Caregivers should plan for a medical crisis -- even if 'careneeders' won't
Julian Gray and Frank Petrich
There are generally two types of families that enter our office: those in a medical crisis and those concerned about a future medical crisis.
As you can probably imagine, the first situation typically results in fewer options because of the increased stress on the patient and family, hurried choices about medical treatment and future living conditions, and greater financial concerns.
It's a given that as we age, our medical needs increase just simply because our bodies are wearing out. While some of us may live to be 100 years old - and others much less - the goal is survival in whatever form that means to a person.
The concept of aging and the many choices that come with it are well-documented and the topic of many a conversation among families. So, if we're talking about survival, why do so many people bring a penknife instead of a Swiss Army knife to this adventure?
One of the reasons is that many just don't have good information. Addressing aging issues involves a three-pronged approach: medical, financial and legal.
Frequently, we see families appear at our office with nothing more than a basic set of estate planning documents that are geared toward reacting to some future crisis; generally, death or long-term disability. Along with that, they bring the proverbial "suitcase" or metal box of documents that tell their life story, mostly from a legal and financial perspective.
Few people put it all together in advance.
While many people may have engaged a lawyer, financial planner and several doctors, they have never integrated the disciplines to form a cohesive plan that addresses needs along the continuum of care as they age.
Another reason people don't plan in advance is that family dynamics prevent the conversation from happening. Adult children frequently see their parents "slipping," but as one of our clients once said, "You try to get my father to sit down and listen because I can't."
True, a person who is adamantly opposed to advanced planning is poses a difficult scenario. However, one way to balance this position is to educated the caregiver instead of the "careneeder," so to speak.
For example, generally a spouse or an adult child will be the one to answer the call when the medical crisis occurs. Therefore, that person can start gathering information now to reduce the unknowns when important decisions need to be made in a hurry.
One of the first things we do with new families is ask for copies of their current estate planning documents and have them complete a questionnaire to ascertain family and financial information.
If the person of concern is not interested in planning ahead, the other family members can work together to accumulate information while there are still options available.
Ultimately, we cannot stop the hands of time nor predict the medical challenges one will face. But, getting the other two legs of the planning stool (legal and financial) in order prior to a crisis will help maximize the options available at that time and expedite the analysis and course of action.
Most importantly, knowing the legal and financial bases are covered allows the family to focus their full attention on the most important aspect of the medical crisis - getting good care and making educated choices about future care needs.
We've never had a client who came into the office joyfully anticipating going to a long-term care facility. While there are many such facilities that serve an important function, promoting the safety and care of their residents, this is a setting for chronically ill people who - you guessed it - don't have a lot of other options.
In the alternative, those families coming in who are concerned about a potential future medical crisis are asking the question, "How do I stay out of the nursing home for as long as possible until it's absolutely necessary?"
Retirement is more than just stretching out your finances to live comfortably. Over 60 percent of us will need long-term care and we'll need to figure out how to deal with it, successfully, on several levels.
April 23, 2018
Here's How to Maintain Peace Among Your Heirs
By Paul Sullivan March 22, 2018
Deciding how your children should inherit your assets after your death might be one of the most difficult processes parents will undertake - especially if they have more than one child and complicated assets. But more difficult, and often overlooked, is how your children should behave toward each other if they are not happy with the outcome.
One of the biggest errors parents can make is spending too much time creating the legal entities known as trusts and too little time on the kinds of conversations that will help ensure that trust among siblings is maintained when parents are no longer around to settle disputes.
When creating the legal documents parents often name siblings trustees of other siblings' trusts - or even pick a friend or relative to do the job. And it might seem like a natural thing to do.
But keeping these complicated and stressful decisions in the family or among friends can create a heavy burden. Trustees have very specific legal and financial responsibilities that a family member may not understand. And they risk legal entanglements if they fail to act in a responsible manner.
"You have to understand what you're asking someone to do," said Sharon Klein, president of the New York Region of Wilmington Trust. "Even the appearance of impropriety can cause problems. The people who are left out feel antagonistic."
This is where corporate trustees come in. "They have a lot of experience," said Lynn Halpern, managing director and senior fiduciary counsel at Bessemer Trust. "They're dispassionate."
They're not free, however. A corporate trustee can cost about half a percent of the account's value per year (although that doesn't include money management fees, which can hover around 1 percent, depending on the account size). But they're cheaper than years of lawyers if a legal fight ensues.
Of course, picking the right person to stand in for you and spare your children is key. William D. Zabel, founding partner at Schulte, Roth and Zabel, had blunt advice: "Don't use the small town bank."
As one of the country's leading trust and estates attorneys, Mr. Zabel said he's seen many instances in which the bankers, attorneys, accountants and other professionals in a small town close ranks when out-of-town attorneys arrive to challenge the decisions they've been making. The local may favor the local children over the ones who moved away and can play favorites in subtle ways. Equal is not fair if one sibling gets cash and the other gets real estate or securities set to appreciate, for example.
Of course, how this kind of situation is handled depends on the bank and the town. Some might argue they know the family and its needs far better than outsiders.
Outsiders aren't impervious to mistakes. The widow of an American Airlines executive recently won a $8 billion judgement against J.P. Morgan Chase for how it managed distributions between her and the man's children from a previous marriage.
This is an extreme case, but it behooves the person setting up the trust to put in provisions that would allow a trustee to be replaced. This generally requires the beneficiaries to agree on the terms but it must be put in the legal documents ahead of time, Ms. Klein said.
Another consideration is whether siblings should be expected to work out their disputes after parents die - especially if they couldn't do it while their parents were alive.
Separate trusts for each child - not one large children's trust - can mitigate some of this friction. "One sibling is then free to raise their own challenges," if he or she disagrees with something an adviser has done, Ms. Halpern said. "The other benefit of allowing different family members to have their own trusts is they can choose their own trustees, and they don't have to have the same trustees across the board."
It also keeps siblings from knowing each other's business.
Finally, to give your children the best chance of staying on good terms with each other, advisers say write both a financial will that leaves them the assets and an ethical will that conveys guidance to them.
"I hear a lot that my kids never fight and this won't be a problem," said Coventry Edwards-Pitt, chief wealth advisory officer at Ballentine Partners. "I say you don't know that until you really live through it. You won't really know until you put them in it."
Who'd want to chance it?
April 5, 2018
Should a dementia patient be able to refuse food and water?
By Valerie Peterson, J.D.
April 3, 2018
Last year, a case in Oregon was decided where a husband was unable to force a nursing home to stop spoon feeding his wife who had advanced dementia, despite her written wishes not to be kept alive by artificial nutrition and hydration. A judge sided with the nursing home, saying by law the nursing home had to provide three meals a day and to help with feeding if necessary.
Shortly after, the group End of Life Washington provided a form with instruction on when food or hydration should be provided or withheld to a patient who no longer had capacity to decide for herself. The form states that the person signing the form wants food and drink if accepted when it is offered. It goes on to set out several circumstances under which food and drink should not be provided, for example, if the person who signed the document appears indifferent to food, spits out food or fluids, or turns their head when offered food or drink.
Just last month, Kaiser Health News reported that End of Life Choices New York has published an "aggressive" new advance directive offering a patient with advanced dementia 2 options: Option A that allows "comfort feeding" if the patient allows it or enjoys it, or option B that forbids all food and drink even if the patient seems to accept it. The form provided is 6 pages long with the first 3 pages providing details instructions to the person signing the form.
Alzheimer's is one of the most expensive diseases to treat, and the numbers are only getting higher. According to a recent report, Alzheimer's disease will cost the U.S. $277 billion in 2018 and $1 trillion by 2050. Also in 2050, an estimated 14 million people will be diagnosed with the disease. The challenge of how people who are diagnosed with dementia will be able to afford care is one that elder law attorneys assist with routinely.
The conversation about how clients want their life prolonged if diagnosed with dementia is an important one. Taking the next step of writing down their wishes in an advanced directive is absolutely necessary so that caregivers, family and other medical providers are clear on what the person with dementia wants. However (and unfortunately), it is important to stress to clients that even if they put their wishes in writing, there is no guarantee that a facility or medical provider will honor those wishes.
If you would like to discuss the status of such choices being honored in Kansas or Missouri, and how your current Living Will/Advance Directive would be treated under similar circumstances, please call Sally Martin at 816-249-2122 to set up a complimentary 15 minute consultation on this topic.
March 29, 2018
Single? No kids? Don't Fret: How to Plan Care in Your Later Years
By Susan B. Garland
March 23, 2018
Sarah Peveler lacks a support system that many older people count on: their adult children.
But Ms. Peveler, 71, who is divorced and childless, said she was determined not to let fear of an uncertain future get the best of her.
To help avoid the potential perils of a solitary old age, Ms. Peveler is carrying out a multipronged, go-it-alone plan. A key part of it was to find a small community where she could make friends and walk nearly everywhere, without worrying about the hazards of ice and snow.
A friend from North Carolina suggested that she look at Tarboro, in the eastern part of the state, about 75 miles from Raleigh. The city of 11,400 filled the bill, and she moved there several years before retiring in 2012 from her job as an executive at a Philadelphia-based nonprofit.
"At some point, I am not going to be able to drive," she said. From her downtown home, "I can walk to Main Street, the library, the church, the drugstore and the Piggly Wiggly."
Ms. Peveler paid $135,000 cash for a one-story house with longevity in mind. One of the three bedrooms, she said, can be converted into an apartment if she needs a caretaker to move in. She is thinking of checking out assisted-living facilities in case she ever needs more than home care. (There is a family history of dementia, she said.) Several mini-strokes caused some cognitive impairment, so her doctor monitors her regularly.
With a brother on the West Coast and no nieces of nephews to step in, Ms. Peveler has, though her church and several civic activities, developed a surrogate family of friends and neighbors, many of them several decades younger, who keep tabs on her. For added protection, she signed up for a service, EyeOn App, that signals three friends if she does not reply within a half-house to scheduled alerts on her cellphone.
"Once, I didn't response, and everyone called me," she said. "My next-door neighbor sent her daughter over."
Although no plan is foolproof, Ms. Peveler said she was as confident as she could be. "I know people would have my back," she said.
Ms. Peveler is among a growing number of older Americans who are unmarried and childless. By 2030, about 16 percent of women 80 to 84 will be childless, compared with about 12 percent in 2010, according to a 2013 report by AARP.
While Ms. Peveler is trying to control the risks of aging alone, many so-called elder orphans may not fare as well. Older single and childless people are at higher risk than those with children for facing medical problems, cognitive decline and premature death, according to a 2016 study led by Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at the Northwell Health system on Long Island. The study noted that about 22 percent of people 65 and older either are childless or have children who are not in contact.
Adult children typically help elderly parents negotiate housing, social-service and health care options. Without such a fallback, elder orphans can reduce their risks by building their own support structures, Dr. Carney said.
"People who are aging alone need to make plans when they are independent and functional," she said. "They need to learn about the resources in the community and the appropriate time to start using them." Those services could include senior-friendly housing and the growing number of home-delivered products and services aimed at the aging-solo market, such as healthy meals and doctors who make house calls, she said.
One of the first steps childless people should take is to hire an elder law lawyer, who can draw up documents that will protect them if they become incapacitated. Childless people typically turn to a friend, a lawyer, clergy, or a niece or nephew to make medical decisions, according to experts. A bank's trust unit can take on financial tasks, with a friend, a relative or a lawyer monitoring the bank's decisions.
Christina Lesher, an elder law lawyer in Houston, suggests appointing a "micro board," which includes the lawyer, the health care and financial agents, an accountant and a geriatric care manager. "The board can step in if a client cannot make decisions," Ms. Lesher said. The client could assign a network of friends and neighbors to call the lawyer in an emergency or if they notice any cognitive decline.
As for housing, Dr. Carney recommends that people aging alone consider a senior-friendly "congregate living" arrangement. Besides offering a variety of services, such as housing can lessen isolation, which her research shows can lead to physical and cognitive decline. If that is not possible, she said, elder orphans should move closer to shopping, medical care, recreation and senior support services.
One housing option with a built-in support system is a continuing care retirement community. Residents usually start in an independent living unit and, depending on the care needed, move to an on-site assisted-living unit or a skilled-nursing facility. Entrance and monthly fees tend to be hefty, however. Typical entry fees range from just over $100,000 to more than $400,000 while monthly services fees can range from $2,000 to $4,000, according to MyLifeSite, which tracks the pricing and financial information of more than 800 C.C.R.C.s.
With no one to oversee their care, elder orphans who want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible could enlist a geriatric care manager, who monitors elderly clients and coordinates care.
In Washington, D.C., clients of Iona Senior Services, for example, can arrange for a care manager to be on call as their health deteriorates, said Deborah Rubenstein, director of consultation, care management and counseling programs. If a client is discharged from a hospital, for example, the care manager, in consultation with the designated health care agent, would arrange for rehabilitation or home care, she said.
"More and more people were coming to us and saying, 'I'm O.K. now, but I'm realistic enough to know my health status could change,'" Ms. Rubenstein said. Iona charges $150 an hour.
Meanwhile, a growing number of volunteer neighborhood groups are providing both social connections and practical help to older people who are at home alone. More than 200 organizations in the Village to Village Network, including "villages" in the New York area, provide rides to medical appointments, snow removal, home repairs and computer support. Villages in 150 additional neighborhoods are in development. Tax-deductible membership fees can range from $100 to $400.
Entrepreneurs and companies, many nationwide, are moving into the so-called longevity market. On-demand services, accessible by a phone app or a computer, can connect people to personal assistants and food delivery.
"The on-demand marketplace will be the best friend of elder orphans," said Mary Furlong, a Silicon Valley consultant to companies that cater to seniors.
For example, the ride-hailing service Lyft is working with health care systems and retirement communities to provide rides to nonemergency medical appointments and other destinations. And because financial acuity often declines with age, childless singles can enroll in a service such as EverSafe, which monitors accounts for unusual spending and alerts the client or a trust advocate of possible fraud.
In-home technology, like medication reminders, also can help people live alone safely longer, experts say. Besides her EyeOn home-monitoring system, Ms. Peveler uses an Amazon Alexa device.
"If I am reading a recipe, I can tell her what to put on a shopping list," said Ms. Peveler, who has a harder time remembering some details since her mini-strokes. And just for fun, she may tell Alexa "to make cat noises, and one of my cats goes nuts."
For those aging solo, expanding a social network is essential, according to experts on aging. Two years ago, Carol Marak, who is in her mid-60s and lives alone in Dallas, started the Elder Orphan Facebook Group.
"I wanted a place to feel less lonely and to connect with others in the same situation," said Ms. Marak, who is also the spokeswoman for SeniorCare.com, a site that provides information on local care options. About 6,500 childless singles, mostly women, are members, she said.
Ms. Marak said she was struck by the number of members who worried about being "isolated and disconnected from the community." She said she was trying hard to create her own social connections. She moved from a suburban house to a downtown condominium building, where she is making new friends. And she has organized brunches for Dallas members of the Facebook page.
Determined to say health for as long as possible, Ms. Marak said she walks six miles a day and eats mostly vegan meals. "I need to keep stronger because I am totally responsible for myself," she said.
March 9, 2018
Estate Planning And The Single Girl
By Ann Margaret Carrozza
Regardless of one's current martial status, I advise all women to view their estate plan through the eyes of a single person. This is because the majority of us will, at some point, be single.
Many women stay single by choice. For those of us who are married, we know the divorce rate is between 40 and 50%. The rate is even higher for second (and subsequent) marriages. As for those lucky couples that "go the distance," 80% of women will survive their husbands.
This means that women need to plan for their long-term care and estate planning needs as if they will, one day, be single.
The first step on the planning journey is identifying a means to pay for any future needed long term care. A 65 year old woman today is likely to live another 20 years. This really is the new middle age! The corollary to our longer life expectancies is that we are fairly likely to live to a point when we will need help with the 'cranky' activities of daily living: feeding, bathing, dressing and toileting. As a nation, we are still bogged down in partisan warfare over primary and preventive care. Chronic and custodial care is not even part of the current "ObamaCare" discourse. Medicare is also woefully inadequate in this regard. So, it is up to us... For those healthy enough to qualify, long term care insurance should be explored.
Historically, the biggest turnoff with long term care policies is that all accrued premiums are forfeited if the policy is dropped. Now, however, there are options called "hybrid" policies which have a retained benefit feature. I encourage all women to at least, educate themselves about the current plans.
Perhaps even more challenging than identifying a payment source, is appointing the person or persons who will be in charge of communicating our future care preferences to a physician or other health care provider. This is done on a health care proxy form, which can be downloaded from www.myelderlawattorney.com. Selecting a health care proxy agent is, admittedly, a challenge for single women. This is especially true for those without children or whose children live far away.
I encourage my clients who don't have a "ready-made" care team to start recruiting and assembling their own. One's physician, attorney or accountant may be able to recommend a few geriatric care managers. Hospital discharge planning departments can also be a good source. I recommend "interviewing" these people in advance to determine whether there is a good rapport. If you cannot come up with an appropriate candidate, who you are sure is familiar with your thoughts regarding end of life care, then I recommend opting for a living will instead of a health care proxy. The living will is where we list all of our thoughts and preferences for future care that may be needed. This is the document where we can state our preference to have any needed care provided in our own home. A sample living will can be downloaded from www.myelderlawattorney.comand customized as needed.
Next, comes the selection of an executor of the will and Power of Attorney agent. Failure to fill these positions ahead of time means that a judge will one day name the estate administrator and/or personal guardian if one loses mental capacity during life. It is far better to assemble your team ahead of time, lest some strange judge's golf buddy be appointed to handle your affairs. If you have no ideal candidates in your personal life, then I recommend a second "recruiting" process. A trusted friend, clergy member or financial professional may be a good start. To promote accountability, you may wish to name two people acting together. You can also reduce the scope of your agent's power within your documents to guard against the possibility of wrongdoing.
Ideally, you will sit down with each of your chosen care team members once a year to discuss future care and financial management plans. It is important to draft flexible documents so that you can replace your named agents whenever you wish. Once you take the smallest first step on this planning process, I promise that you will feel more empowered as you look toward the future.
February 27, 2018
Building a Financial Emergency Kit for Your Family
By Nathaniel Sillin
What could a financial emergency look like for your family? It could be the weather-related destruction of a home. It could mean sudden serious illness, injury or job loss for a family's main breadwinner - or breadwinners. It could also mean round-the-clock, end-of-life care for a loved one who can't afford the expense.
So what is a family financial emergency kit? There are some common elements to it, much like the water, bandages and battery-powered radio that the Ready.gov disaster supplies kit specifies. It needs to be a clear, well-organized set of useful documents, information and items accessible to everyone who needs to use them.
One family may keep all the contents in a waterproof, fireproof file cabinet or safe to feel confident they have things under control; many feel more comfortable housing everything in the cloud, away from potential water and fire damage. If you are concerned about storing these record in one physical location, consider digital storage devices such as web-based storage services. USB flash drives, external hard drives and network-attached storage hard drives. What matters is that the kit's documents and contents are safe and secure and its organization fits the habits and preferences of the decision-makers who will need to use it.
Here's what your kit might contain:
1. Estate documents.
Estate planning is the highest form of financial emergency planning because it addresses the ultimate personal financial emergencies - medical incapacitation or death. Would your family have easy access to this material if something happened to you? In your family financial emergency kit, estate documents would include copies of current wills (for you and your spouse or partner), your advanced directives (which instruct doctors on end-of-life or other stages in medical care), health/financial powers of attorney (which designate specific individuals to step in to manage your money or healthcare if you cannot do so) as well as other documents that provide additional guidance for operating businesses and managing and distributing other assets you have. Make sure these documents are current and that contact information is included for all the qualified experts you used to prepare them - estate or business attorneys, tax professionals and financial planners.
2. Insurance policies.
Being able to find home and auto policies in a natural disaster is a no-brainer, but it's important to think a little more broadly. File as much policy and contact detail as you can for any health, disability, business, life and accident coverage you have - and remember that it's particularly important to note or file documentation on this coverage at work, too. Sometimes we sign up rather blindly for work-based benefits only to realize how important they may be in a financial emergency.
3. Tax materials.
If a family member dies or becomes incapacitated, tax matters still need to be attended to. If you work with a tax professional, make sure their contact information is in the digital or physical kit (see indexes, contacts and guides, below), but it's also important to keep past returns and relevant supporting data based on your individual tax situation.
4. Investment, savings and retirement documents.
If you work with a qualified financial planner or tax expert, you may have access to a particular system that lists and tracks this information in an organized way that many of us don't have at home. However you plan and track your investments, it should be included in your kit.
5. Photos and video of your home and assets.
Whether you store photos digitally or physically, it's wise to keep shots of your property and possessions in case you suffer an insurance loss. Proving loss in a financial emergency is important - talk to your insurance representatives about the best evidence they require in proving claims to guide what you document.
6. Make copies of keys and access information.
If you're away from home when damage occurs or if family members need to access vehicles or spaces, make sure you have keys and access codes locked safely in your emergency kit. You will also want to ensure that your emergency contacts have the necessary access to your emergency kit in order to retrieve these materials.
7. Indexes, contact sheets and guides.
Some people need a little guidance, others need a lot. A family financial emergency kit needs to be usable by all designated family members. Put yourself in the role of a friend or family member who's been called in to help you in a crisis. If you had to step in to settle an estate, healthcare or disaster emergency for a friend or family member and they weren't around to advise you, what information would you need to get started? In any category of information you include in a financial emergency kit, include a separate file or digital instruction that details people to call, account numbers if necessary, relevant online and physical addresses and other key data to advise that person about what's in front of them and what they should do. If you work with qualified financial experts, make sure their contact information is included.
8. Safe, secure procedures for all physical and digital documents.
If you're storing your kit at home or at an outside facility, consider what you'll need to use to keep them safe from fire, water, theft or any natural disasters. It may be as simple as a fire-and-water safe set of lockable file cabinets, maybe even laminating documents or storing them in plastic folders. Many have made the switch to storing important documents digitally to prevent them from getting lost or stolen. If you're going the digital route, it is just as important to make extra encrypted USB flash drives and login information for web-based storage services accessible to your emergency contacts. Be mindful that the convenience of storing documents digitally has its own set of security and access concerns and you'll need to make sure family members using the kit understand them.
9. Access to funds.
If your executor or trusted individuals have joint access to a bank account established strictly for emergencies, you're covered. But depending on the emergency, cash might be necessary. Evaluate the best choice to make it available if you think it would be needed.
Finally, know that one person's secure environment might be risky for another. Before you build your financial emergency kit, get some helpful advice from trusted advisors on what documents you should select, the way you should organize your kit and finally, be mindful of risks like identity theft when you gather and store information.
Financial emergencies can take many forms - if you or another trusted individual needed your financial data in a hurry to deal with a crisis, would it be in an organized, safe place? A carefully thought-out financial emergency kit can alleviate loss, worry and help you make important decisions quickly.
February 21, 2018
Estate Planning: Include Your Pets!
My wife volunteers her time to Paws Crossed, a no-kill animal shelter in Westchester County, NY. Often pets are surrendered to shelters because of changes in their owners' lives such as relocation, allergies or financial distress; and sometimes as a result of the passing of their owner. For a no-kill shelter, pets surrendered for the latter reason often become legacy pets - especially older pets that are unlikely to be adopted. As a lifelong pet owner I'm thankful that such shelters exist as a backstop of last resort; legacy pets will live out their lives with good care, but without the special relationship of a loving owner. With planning, hopefully we can do better.
During estate planning meetings with clients, provisions for the ongoing care of pets should be considered. Absent language to the contrary, pets are considered "personal property" and distributed to whomever receives furniture, cars and the other non-financial possessions of the deceased. Sometimes there are easy solutions such as a friend or family member who would welcome a furry addition to their family, without creating a financial hardship. When this is not the case, a solution can be a pet trust - essentially a vehicle for providing for the ongoing custody and costs of pet ownership. Similar to other types of trusts, they can be created and funded currently (inter vivos) or upon death through one's will (testamentary).
As with any legal document, since a pet trust does not provide for the pet's immediate needs upon one's passing, we recommend a Letter of Final Wishes (LFW) that is readily accessible to family members. As pertaining to pets, the LFW should specify the person assuming immediate responsibility for caring for your pets (caregiver), even if only temporarily, as well as details on diet, meds, and contact information for their veterinarian.
Pet trusts provide descriptive information along with funding for the cost of their maintenance. You (the "settlor") create the trust, name the caregiver who will have custody of the pets and the trustee who makes financial decisions, along with their alternates and successors. The same person can fulfill both responsibilities. Essentially, expenses generally are paid out periodically for ongoing care. The trustee also can distribute funds for veterinary expenses. Occasionally, compensation provisions for the caregiver are specified.
As with all funding vehicles, judgment is required to determine adequate funding. I recommend multiplying the pet's estimated remaining life by estimated annual expenses, including vet care. I like adding a 50% cushion for late life medical expenses. As with other types of trusts, you can designate the remainder beneficiary who ultimately receives any undistributed funds.
Taking on the responsibility of ownership of our furry friends requires a lifelong commitment - not just for the lifespan of the pet, but also for instances where pets might outlive their owners.
February 16, 2018
6 Things A Trust Can Do That You May Not Realize
To many people, a trust seems like a basic (albeit highly effective) estate planning tool. The maker of the trust transfers ownership of certain assets to the trust, and a trustee manages those assets for the beneficiary or that trust.
But your trust can do a lot more than that.
A trust can protect your beneficiaries.
A trust can provide beneficiaries protection from lawsuits, creditors, or divorce. Establishing an irrevocable trust means a future creditor or claimant cannot satisfy a judgment against the assets held in that trust. A trust can also protect the interests of a minor child by setting guidelines for when distributions are made.
A trust can provide for children with special needs.
A trust can not only provide for the health care and personal needs of a child with special needs, it can also help ensure eligibility for Medicare benefits is maintained. And if you are concerned that a beneficiary is unable to manage assets wisely, an independent trustee can help make smart decisions on his or her behalf.
A trust can encourage certain actions for values.
A trust can provide incentives to achieve certain goals: Education, profession, home ownership, community service... whatever you decide. That can make a trust a powerful tool in passing on your values and ethics.
A trust can preserve family wealth.
Without careful planning, circumstances like divorce and remarriage can result in assets intended to remain in the family actually leaving the family. A well-crafted trust can ensure your estate is preserved for grandchildren and even great grand-children.
A trust can take care of pets.
Who will take care of your pets when you're gone? (Especially if your pet is a parrot with a lifespan of approximately 100 years?) A trust can not only specify who will take care of your furry friends, it can also provide the resources to ensure they are cared for properly.
And there's one more thing a trust can do.
The most important thing you can pass on is family harmony, but that can be difficult if you do not communicate your intentions - and the reasons behind those intentions before you pass away. Letting your heirs know what you decided avoids misunderstandings and gives you the opportunity to explain in person, rather than leaving your loved ones wondering. Trusts are extremely flexible and can cover a wide range of goals and needs. One size never fits all, so make sure your Trust provides for your loved ones based on your specific goals.. and their unique needs.
February 6, 2018
Social Security Changes Coming in 2018
By Emily Brandon
Social Security beneficiaries will get 2 percent bigger payments in 2019. The Social Security program will also be tweaked in several important ways that affect how much you pay in and will receive in retirement. Here's a look at the Social Security changes you can expect to se in 2018.
The average monthly Social Security payment is expected to increase by $27 to $1,404 in January 2018. Couples who are both receiving benefits will see their payments climb by an average of $46 to $2,340. The maximum possible Social Security benefit for a worker who begins collecting benefits at full retirement age will be $2,788 in 2018, up from $2,687 in 2017.
Social Security payments are adjusted every year to keep up with inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. Social Security benefits were increased by only 0.3 percent in January 2017. Previous cost-of-living adjustments have ranged from zero in 2010, 2011 and 2016 to 14.3 percent in 1980.
A higher tax cap.
Workers will contribute 6.2 percent of their earnings to Social Security until their income exceeds $128,700 in 2018, up from $127,200 in 2017. The Social Security Administration expects about 12 million people to pay higher taxes as a result of this change. Those who earn more than the taxable maximum will not have those earnings taxed by Social Security or used to calculate retirement benefits.
Larger earnings limits.
Retirees who work and collect Social Security benefits at the same time will be able to earn slightly more in 2018 before part or all of their benefit is temporarily withheld. Beneficiaries who are younger than their full retirement age can earn up to $17,040 in 2018, $120 more than in 2017, before they will lose a benefit dollar for each $2 earned above the limit. The earning limit will grow by $480 to $45,360 for those who will turn their retirement age in 2018, and the penalty decreases to a dollar withheld for every $3 earned above the limit. Once you turn your full retirement age there is no penalty for working after claiming retirement benefits and your benefit will be recalculated to give you credit for any withheld earnings.
An older full retirement age.
People who will turn 62 in 2018 will need to wait until an older retirement age to claim their full retirement benefit than existing Social Security beneficiaries. The full retirement age for those born in 1956 is 66 and four months, up from 66 and two months for people born in 1955 and 66 for everyone born between 1943 and 1954. The full retirement age will further increase in two-month increments in subsequent years until it reaches age 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later. Those who sign up for Social Security before their full retirement age will receive a reduced payment. Workers will an older full retirement age have less opportunity to boost their payments through delayed claiming. "There are fewer months between the ages of 67 and 70 to earn delayed retirement credits, meaning the maximum benefit is lower with a full retirement age of 67 versus 66," says William Meyer, founder and managing principal of Social Security Solutions, a company that analyzes Social Security claiming strategies.
No more paper statements.
The Social Security Administration stopped mailing paper Social Security statements to everyone under age 60 in 2017. If you want to check your earnings history and get a personalized estimate of your future benefit, you will now need to create an online my Social Security account. "Then you can check your Social Security status anytime, anywhere, just like you do with your other accounts," says Andy Landis, author of "Social Security: The Inside Story." "Try to check your Social Security at least annually, say around the first of the year, tax time or your birthday."
More security features.
New security features have recently been added to the Social Security website. My Social Security account holders now need to enter a one-time security code sent to their phone or email address in addition to a username and password each time they log in. "Two-factor authentication is safer than just a username and password," says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will mail out new Medicare cards without Social Security numbers printed on them beginning in April 2018. Instead, the new Medicare card will contain a unique combination of numbers and letters. But other printed materials may still list your number. "Don't forget that your Social Security number is not just kept on a card. Social Security numbers may exist on bank account statements, tax documents and other forms of hard copy documents," says David Almonte, a certified public account and member of AICPA's National CPA Finance Literacy Commission. "Be sure to properly dispose of these documents and not just blindly throw them away."
January 31, 2018
Estate Planning and the Single Parent
By Alexandra Smyser
Whether by design or by circumstance, you may have found yourself raising your children on your own. You probably could not be any busier - days are filled with work, kid's activities and various emergencies depending on your children's ages. And, when your head hits the pillow at night, you are sure you have nothing left to give and can't take care of one more thing.
Being a parent is a lot of responsibility, and that responsibility is compounded if you are not married to your children's other parent. What would happen to your children if you died unexpectedly? Who would take care of them? Who would manage their finances, pay for their housing, food and education? And what if you were incapacitated? In most states, spouses are first in line to make health care and financial decisions for a person who can't make their own decisions. But if you are not married, or even worse if you are married, but separated or in the process of a divorce, the question of who is the decision-maker gets much more complicated.
Luckily, with some preparation and planning, your children can be well-cared for even if you are not the one to do it. A well-drafted and thoughtful estate plan will reduce stress and conflict at a difficult time. Here are the documents of an estate plan and how they can help you as a single parent:
Revocable Living Trust
A living trust has many benefits, especially for parents of children who are too young to manage assets on their own. A trust allows you to be in charge of your assets while you are alive and able, but when you die or become incapacitated, the person you name will administer your assets and make distributions to beneficiaries. And that is important even if your children are technically adults. A 19-year-old is likely not ready to handle a large inheritance and may not be able to resist temptation and only use the money for the necessities (like an education!). A good trust will name a trusted individual who can distribute the inheritance wisely with the goals of paying for college, food and maybe even the down payment on a house.
Moreover, a properly drafted trust will avoid probate, which can be expensive and time-consuming and not optimal when your children need to continue living in the family home and have expenses paid. And the probate process is court-supervised, which means your personal information is in public documents for the entire world to see. Plus, a trust is likely much less expensive than a probate.
Every person over the age of 18 should have a valid will. A will gives you a chance to name who is responsible for your estate, and whom you want to give your estate to when you die. You can also use a will to name your choice as a guardian for your children. If you don't have a will, your estate will be distributed according to the state's plan and not yours.
Nomination of Guardian
While you have full authority to name who will take care of your financial estate when you are gone, naming a person to take care of your children is a little more tricky if you are a single parent. If your child's other parent is fit, care for the child will fall to him or her, regardless of your nomination. However, you should legally nominate a guardian either in your will or in a separate Nomination of Guardian document in the event the other parent cannot act. It is important to note that the guardian of your child does not have to be the person who manages the child's inheritance. As a matter of fact, it is wise to have those roles filled by two different people.
Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs
If you are a single parent, you are likely the only signer on your bank accounts and name on your bills. What would happen if you were incapacitated and no one was able to access your accounts to pay your mortgage, keep your utilities on and make sure your kids are being cared for? A durable power of attorney gives you the opportunity to name a trusted individual to manage your financial affairs and legal decisions during your life if you are not able.
Advance Health Care Directive
Similar to a power of attorney, a health care directive allows you to name someone you trust to make decisions about your health care when you are not capable yourself. It is important to talk to your agent about how you feel about life-sustaining treatment and make sure you pick an agent that will carry out your wishes, even if it is difficult.
You may have a significant amount of wealth in life insurance policies and your retirement accounts. The beneficiary designations on those assets will control who they are distributed to, not your will or trust. It is extremely important that you do not name minors on your beneficiary designations. Minors are not legally able to control assets and a guardian may have to be appointed by the court to manage the asset until the minor turns 18. Speak to your estate planning attorney about strategies to allow your children to benefit from your life insurance and 401K plan without court intervention.
It would be helpful to prepare a list of personal information as a road map if someone had to step into your shoes and manage your life. Make a list of advisors (legal, financial, health, insurance) and friends and family to be contacted; and a list of all your accounts including institution, account number and any beneficiary information. Finally, make a list of digital assets (online bank and investment accounts, social networking sites, any websites or blogs) including user names and passwords so your personal representative can access and perhaps even shut down your accounts, if necessary. Obviously, this all should be kept in a very safe place, but it will be powerful and required information if you are incapacitated or die.
The basic paternal instinct is protect your child. And the thought of not being around to raise your child is almost too much to bear. But the proper estate planning will give you the peace of mind to know that your child will be cared for with the minimum of expense and complication.
January 19, 2018
It's Different For Women In Estate Planning
When is the last time you thought about your estate plan? If you are like most women, it is probably not something that crosses your mind every day - we are all busy with more immediate priorities like family, work and community involvement.
However, just like regular check-ups for your physical health, it is important to do a quick review of your estate planning documents every couple of years to make sure they are up to date.
Why does it matter? Women face unique estate planning challenges
Did you know that women live an average of 4.9 years longer than men? A longer life-expectancy rate means that women have additional planning concerns to consider, compared to their male counterparts - for instance, ensuring their assets can last for a longer period, should they ever become widowed.
Some women may also face financial challenges due to shorter work histories, prompted by putting their careers on hold to raise families. This break in pay could reduce the amount of savings these women will accumulate for their retirement; an organized estate plan can help with transferring of those assets.
"We find that the majority of the surviving spouses we work with are women," says Melissa Kampmann, attorney and chair of the Trusts & Estates Practice Group at Ruder Ware, a law firm headquartered in Wausau, Wisc.
"These women are often thankful for the time and effort that we put into creating a properly constructed estate plan. Not only does an estate plan save time and money, but it can also provide numerous protections for the surviving spouse and her estate upon her passing."
With the right guidance and team of professionals, you can stay on top of your estate plan and make sure you are ready for whatever the future holds. Here are some important planning tips to keep in mind.
Know your financial assets.
It is important to assume an active role in managing your finances. Take inventory of what types of financial assets you own; these might include checking and savings accounts, taxable investment accounts or retirement plan accounts. Make sure you understand how those assets are managed and how they should be distributed at your death.
Protect your financial assets.
Make sure your insurance coverage can support your financial needs in case your spouse passes away before you do. Also, consider purchasing insurance on your life to cover any final expenses or estate taxes that might be due at death.
Plan for your financial assets.
Essentially, estate planning is a process that allows individuals to create documents reflecting how they want their personal and financial assets to be distributed at their death. By practicing proactive planning, you will gain full control over the disposition of those assets; the process can also include planning for incapacity in case you become physically or mentally unable to make decisions while you're still alive.
So, what are the basic estate planning documents that every woman should have in place?
A will, which is a legal document that directs how your financial and physical assets should be distributed at your death.
A living will - also known as an "advance directive" - which states your wishes for end-of-life care.
A durable power of attorney for health care, appointing one or more people to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself.
More advanced estate planning documents could include trusts and vehicles for charitable gifting.
Once you have the important, core documents in place, make sure that you are titling your accounts in accordance with your estate plan - this means the account registration (the name on the account) should also reflect the titling in your plan.
Whether you're a single woman looking to develop a plan or prepare for a spouse's passing, it is important to pick trusted advisors that can provide assistance during times of incapacity or death, and also ensure that assets are directed to the intended beneficiaries.
Moreover, make sure the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts are in sync with your estate documents. Try setting a reminder to review your beneficiary designations annually on your birthday so you don't forget.
The main takeaway
The fact that women are likely to outlive their spouses makes an updated, comprehensive estate plan all the more important. As women, it's crucial that we take an active role in managing our finances, protecting our assets and having a clear plan for distributing those assets in the future.
January 8, 2018
Nursing homes hesitate to take dying patients awaiting KanCare coverage
By Allison Kite
When Kansas hospitals prepare to discharge patients who need hospice care and are waiting on Medicaid coverage, nursing homes may not be willing to take them, health care providers said.
A long-running backlog of Medicaid applications has hit the bottom lines of Kansas nursing homes in recent years. Beneficiaries of Kansas' privatized Medicaid program, KanCare, have waited months to see their applications approved while their nursing homes provide care for which they aren't paid.
Now, health care officials said, those nursing homes may be hesitant to take patients who are going to die soon - afraid they'll never get paid for the care they provide.
Morgan Bell, a licensed master social worker at Stormont Vail Hospital, works in palliative care and ensures patients have a safe place to go after the hospital. She raised the issue last week to legislators on a KanCare oversight committee.
Bell said none of the Topeka-area nursing homes readily take patients who are waiting on KanCare and are likely to die soon.
"That's been the biggest issue is they don't want to take on that financial risk because they just haven't been getting paid," Bell said.
Nursing homes have reported struggling to make payroll and pay food vendors because of the financial struggles they have faced, including cash flow problems cause by the backlog. The providers recently raised concern about the severe fines they've received from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. State surveyors inspect the facilities and send reports to the federal government, which signs off on them and levies fines.
Bell said Stormont Vail has been able to provide funds to get some patients the care they need. One women moved to the area to be close to family, but wasn't yet approved for KanCare. Bell said Stormont Vail put up some funds in a contract with Midland Care.
"It's not something that we can do for every single patient, and it's not fixing the problem," Bell said. "It's just kind of filling a tiny gap for the moment."
The woman died before she was approved for KanCare, Bell said.
Cindy Luxem, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Care Association, said she had heard the trend from her members, more than 200 long-term care providers. She said the issue was state-wide.
Luxem said nursing homes can get compensated for care they provided to a since-deceased resident, but it's a different process than the normal reimbursement procedure.
"But that is a long drawn out process, so it's a major problem right now," Luxem said.
Bell said she would like to see patients who have a limited life expectancy get "presumptive eligibility." That would mean certain providers could immediately enroll them in KanCare rather than waiting for an application approval. Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said in an email only pregnant women, certain disable people and foster children got presumptive eligibility. Bringing presumptive eligibility to patients with short life expectancies would require a budget increase, a decision for Legislature, de Rocha said.
Right now, de Rocha said, social workers can mark KanCare applications as an "urgent medical need" to move them ahead in line.
De Rocha said continuing to reduce the backlog would help build trust between KanCare and nursing homes, "giving nursing facilities confidence to accept those individuals while they wait for eligibility to be determined."
Last week, more than 2,000 applications were awaiting approval more than 45 days after they were submitted.
Luxem said her nursing homes weren't immune to the backlog struggles.
"I can't even begin to tell you the uncompensated care that our providers have given over the last few years," Luxem said.
Rachel Monger serves as vice president of governmental affairs for LeadingAge Kansas. Monger said her members had not reported being hesitant to take dying patients, but she thought it made sense. When the backlog emerged as a serious problem, homes were hesitant to take any residents who were waiting on KanCare, Monger said.
"When you compound that with this very real possibility that the resident may die before approval and you don't get paid at all, that makes complete sense - why that would be happening," Monger said.
Monger said it was hard when homes had to turn potential residents away, but staying in business had become a matter of "survival."
"They are in the business of caring for people," Monger said, "but they have been pushed up against the wall to the point that you have to choose between doing what you want to do, which you feel is the right thing, and just surviving and keeping your doors open and being able to care for all the rest of the residents in your building."
Bell said moving into hospice was difficult enough for patients and their families without struggling to find a nursing home that could take them.
"It's probably the worst time that most of these people have gone through, and that's really the last thing they should have to worry about," Bell said. "They should be able to spend time with their family member, or their family member should not have to worry about putting their family members through financial burden when they die."
December 28, 2017
GAO report sounds alarm about vouchers and students with disabilities
By Moriah Balingit (December 2)
Across the country, thousands of children attend private schools through publicly funded voucher programs and education savings accounts, with states giving money directly to parents to spend at a school of their choice.
But parents sacrifice legal safeguards if their child with a disability attends a private school through these programs, according to a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office. Protections that require public schools to provide speech therapy, tutoring and specialized education plans do not apply to private schools.
The GAO report found that many states with voucher programs and education savings accounts do not inform parents of students with disabilities how their rights change when a child transfers to private school through a choice program. About half the private schools the GAO surveyed offered little or no information about their special-education services on their websites.
The report examined 27 private school choice programs in 15 states, including several that serve children with disabilities exclusively. The study authors also interviewed 17 families with a child with a disability who participated in a private school choice program.
There was far less oversight in these private schools: Only nine of the 27 school choice programs required schools to test their students and report the results. Ten of the programs did not require participating private schools to conduct background checks of school employees. Only eight had to comply with financial audits.
In a response to the GAO study, the Education Department said the report unfairly assumes that parents who transfer a child with disabilities to a private school are unaware of how their rights will change. It defended private school choice programs.
"Parents may believe that educational benefits or services provided by private schools to their children with disabilities outweigh any rights conferred by [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] or services provided by public schools," wrote Kimberly M. Richey, the acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitation services.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has backed measures that give parents more options regarding where they send their children to school, including state programs that direct public dollars into private and parochial schools. These programs have raised concerns among civil rights advocates, who point out that private schools are not bound by the same civil rights laws - including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - as public schools.
"The new report from GAO shows the outrageously low standards to which many school voucher programs are held," said Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, where about 34,000 children attend private schools with help from the state. Pocan was one of three members of Congress who asked the GAO to look into private school choice.
The GAO recommended that the Education Department require states to notify parents of children with disabilities that their rights will change if they send a child to private school.
December 20, 2017
Skloff Financial Group Question of the Month: Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on 529s
By Aaron Skloff, AIF, CFA, MBA
Q: What are the top 10 most frequently asked questions about 529 higher education savings plans?
The Problem - Misunderstanding 529s
Like many sections of the Internal Revenue Code, section 529 involves more than meets the eye. Misunderstanding or underutilizing its capabilities can present problems or forego opportunities.
The Solution - Understanding 529s
I answer the top 10 most frequently asked questions about 529 higher education savings plans below.
1. Who can establish a 529 plan and how many plans can be established?
You can establish and name anyone as a beneficiary - a relative, friend or even yourself. There are no income restrictions on you, as the contributor, or the beneficiary. There is also no limit on the number of plans you can establish.
2. How much can you contribute to a 529 plan?
The annual contribution limit for 2017 is $14,000. This limit is per contributor, per beneficiary. For example, a married couple could contribute $28,000 each year to each of their children's 529 plans. If the couple utilizes the accelerate gift method, they could contribute $140,000 to each of children's 529 plans and then repeat the process after five years.
3. How frequently can you change investments inside a 529 plan?
You can make changes twice a year. An often-overlooked solution to this limit is available when you change the beneficiary. Upon changing the beneficiary, you reset the investment change limit.
4. Are there taxes on 529 plan withdrawals?
No. Withdrawals of principal (contributions), interest, dividends and capital gains are all tax free is used for higher education. Be sure to match withdrawals with payments of qualifying higher education expenses in the same tax year.
5. What are qualified higher education expenses?
The most common qualified education expenses include: required tuition and fees, room and board, off campus housing (up to the school's room and board allowance for federal financial aid), required textbooks and computers.
6. What happens if the student does not pursue higher education?
If the student does not pursue a higher education, the 529 can be left intact and continue to grow on a tax free basis for a different student. Change the name of the student before taking withdrawals by changing the beneficiary on the 529 plan.
7. When changing the beneficiary, what type of beneficiaries would be classified as a tax free transfer?
The most common tax free transfer beneficiaries are: son, daughter, descendant of son or daughter, stepson or stepdaughter, brother, sister, father, mother, stepfather or stepmother, son or daughter of brother or sister, brother of sister of father or mother, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law, spouse of any individuals described above, spouse or first cousin.
8. What if the 529 account owner dies before the 529 balance has been withdrawn?
You can and should name a successor to your 529 account. In doing so, you can create a multi-generational account exempt from capital gains taxes, income taxes and estate taxes. Since the successor will own the account and can change the beneficiary, choose wisely.
9. What happens if the student receives a scholarship?
The 529 can be left intact and continue to grow on a tax fee basis for future higher education expenses (e.g.: business school, law school or medical school) for the same student or for a different student (by changing the beneficiary). You can take withdrawals up to the amount of a scholarship and avoid the 10% penalty on a nonqualified higher education expenses. Note, while you still pay income taxes on the earnings portion of those withdrawals, your contribution portion (principal) is tax free.
10. What happens if I withdrawal the money from the 529 and do not use it for higher education expenses?
With very few exceptions (i.e.: the beneficiary becoming incapacitated, attending a U.S. Military Academy or receiving a scholarship), non-qualified withdrawals are subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty. Note, income taxes and penalties apply to the earnings portion of those withdrawals. Your contribution portion (principal) is still tax free.
Work closely with your Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) to determine if a 529 plan is an appropriate college planning, tax planning and estate planning vehicle.
December 14, 2017
Q&A: Tax bill impacts 'Obamacare' and potentially Medicare
WASHINGTON (AP) - The tax overhaul Republicans are pushing toward final votes in Congress could undermine the Affordable Care Act's health insurance markets and over time add to the financial squeeze on Medicare.
Lawmakers will meet this week to resolve differences between the House- and Senate-passed bills in hopes of getting a finished product to President Donald Trump's desk around Christmas. Also in play are the tax deduction for people with high medical expenses, and a tax credit for drug companies that develop treatments for serious diseases affecting relatively few patients.
The business tax cuts that are the centerpiece of the legislation would benefit many health care companies, but there's also concern among hospitals, doctors and insurers about the impact on coverage. Here are some questions and answers on how the tax bill intersects with health care:
Q: Trump has said he won't cut Medicare, and the program doesn't even seem to be mentioned in the tax bill. Why is AARP saying that health insurance for seniors could be jeopardized?
A: The tax bill would increase federal deficits by about $1 trillion over 10 years, even after stronger economic growth expected from tax cuts. More red ink means higher borrowing costs for the government, and that would reduce options for policymakers when Medicare's long-postponed financial reckoning comes due.
Medicare's giant fund for inpatient care isn't expected to start running out until 2029, more than a decade away. But an anti-deficit law currently in effect could trigger automatic cuts as early as next year - about $25 billion from Medicare.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a joint statement last week that such speculation is unfounded. "This will not happen," the GOP leaders said. Congress has previously waived such cuts, they explained, and there's no reason to think this time would be different.
Nonetheless others see an increased risk to Medicare.
"The greater concern is even if the automatic cuts don't take place, the tax bill just exacerbates the pressure on the federal deficit and Republicans have been pressing for cuts in Medicare for some time," said Paul Van de Water, a policy expert with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income people.
Other safety net programs, including Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance would also come under greater pressure.
Q: How did "Obamacare" wind up in the tax bill?
A: The Senate version repeals the Affordable Care Act's tax penalties on people who don't have health insurance. That actually saves the government money, since fewer consumers would apply for taxpayer-subsidized coverage. GOP tax writers got nearly $320 billion over 10 years to help pay for tax cuts.
Repealing the fines would deal a blow to "Obamacare" after a more ambitious Republican takedown collapsed earlier this year.
Q: Those fines have been very unpopular, so how could repealing them undermine the health law? Other parts of the ACA will remain on the books.
A: Premiums will go up, and that's never popular.
The fines were meant to nudge healthy people to get covered. Because insurance markets work by pooling risks, premiums from healthy people subsidize care for the sick.
Without some arm-twisting to get covered, some healthy people will stay out of the pool.
That's likely to translate to a 10 percent increase in premiums for those left behind, people more likely to have health problems and need comprehensive coverage, says the Congressional Budget Office.
The CBO also estimated that 13 million more people would be uninsured in 2027 without the penalties. If they have a serious accident or illness, uninsured people get slammed with big bills, and taxpayers wind up indirectly subsidizing the cost.
Q: So just taking away an unpopular penalty would destabilize the health insurance law?
A: Repealing the fines is part of a broader context.
The Trump administration slashed the advertising budget for ACA sign-ups this year, while also cutting the enrollment window in half. The administration is working on rules that would allow broader sale of skimpy insurance plans with lower premiums. That, too, would also draw healthy people away from the health law markets.
"The program would still exist, but it would be quite hobbled at this point," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
A separate bipartisan bill to stabilize health insurance markets is still pending in the Senate, and it remains unclear where the markets will settle out.
Q: Taxes and health care are connected. Anything else to flag in the GOP bills?
A: The House bill repeals the tax deduction for people with high medical expenses not covered by insurance. The Senate bill would make the deduction more generous than what's currently allowed. People could deduct amounts that exceed 7.5 percent of their income. The differences would have to be resolved in conference.
In order to raise money to pay for lower tax rates, the House bill eliminates a tax credit available to drug companies that develop medications for people with rare diseases; the Senate bill scales back the tax credit. Organizations representing patients are pushing to keep the credit intact.
December 4, 2017
What Will Happen to My Business When I Die
When you're mired deep in the day-to-day challenges of the management of your business, it's often hard to step out of the trees and take a good hard look at the forest. But at various points in the business cycle, it's important to do just that. For example, one of the key decisions you'll need to consider is what would happen to your business if you decide to step away, or you die or become permanently disabled. A buy-sell agreement can be a useful tool in helping you lan for these circumstances.
What is a buy-sell agreement?
A buy-sell agreement is a legally binding agreement that establishes when, to whom, and at what price you can sell your interest in a business. Buy-sell agreements are also known as business continuation agreements and buyout agreements.
November 29, 2017
You can create a buy-sell as a separate agreement or you can include certain provisions addressing the buy-sell issues in a business's operating agreement. Regardless, the agreement or provisions must clearly identify the potential buyer, any restrictions and limitations, and the conditions under which a sale will occur. Under the terms of the agreement, you and the buyer enter into a contact for the transfer of your business interest by you (or your estate) at the time of a specified triggering event. Typical triggering events include death, long-term disability, retirement, divorce, personal insolvency or bankruptcy, criminal conviction, loss of professional license, and resignation or termination of employment.
A well-crafted buy-sell agreement creates a market for your business interest, establishes its price, and provides cash to complete the business purchase. The ability to fix the purchase price as the taxable value of your business makes a buy-sell agreement especially useful in estate planning. That's because if death is the triggering event, it can help reduce the estate tax burden on your heirs. Additionally, because funding for a buy-sell agreement is typically arranged when the agreement is executed, you're able to ensure that funds will be available when needed, providing your estate with liquidity that may be needed for expenses and taxes.
Pricing the company and funding a buy-sell agreement
A buy-sell should establish a formula for determining the purchase price or state the price outright. Without establishing this price in advance, lengthy disputes and lawsuits can arise at the time the ownership interest must be bought back. When the buy-sell involves family members, it must also be proven that the transaction is comparable to an arms-length sale between unrelated people and was entered into for a bona fide business purpose.
After determining the value of the business, you, your advisors, and other parties to the agreement will determine the best way to fund the transaction and the triggers appropriate for your business situation. There are many different ways to fund a buy-sell agreement, including a sinking fund, cash, borrowed funds, installment sale, self-canceling installment note, private annuity, life insurance, and disability insurance. Depending on the situation, one or more of the possible methods may be used.
Types of structures
Buy-sell agreements can be structured to meet the needs of both the business and its owner(s), taking into consideration tax consequences and individual goals. Following are three types of buy-sell agreements, along with brief descriptions of each:
An entity purchase (or redemption) buy-sell obligates the business to buy the interests of the departing owner(s).
With a cross-purchase buy-sell, each owner agrees to buy a share of the departing owner's interest. The business is not a party to the transaction.
A wait-and-see buy-sell is used when the parties are unsure whether the business or the owners will buy the business interest. Typically, the business is given the first option, and if it is not exercised, the remaining owners are given the opportunity. If the remaining owners do not wish to buy, the business must purchase the interest.
Keep in mind that there are costs and possible disadvantages involved in establishing a buy-sell agreement. One such disadvantage is that the agreement typically limits your freedom to sell the business to outside parties.
If you think that a buy-sell agreement might benefit you and your business, consult your attorney, accountant, and financial professional.
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017
We can help! We routinely assist businesses with their succession planning, including the use of a Buy-Sell Agreement. Please call Sally at 816-249-2122 or email her at email@example.com to set up an appointment to discuss the advantages of having a Buy-Sell Agreement for your business interests.
Nursing Home Costs See Biggest Increase in 13 Years
The cost of long-term care just keeps going up. Those are the findings of the Genworth 2017 Cost of Care Survey, released last month by Genworth Financial.
"Our population is aging, living longer, and not prepared," said David O'Leary, President and CEO of Genworth's US Life division. (Genworth is a provider of long-term care insurance, among other products.) He said the company hopes that its annual survey will help people start planning for their long-term care needs.
The findings of the Cost of Care Survey are as follows:
Nursing Home Care
Nursing home care is much more extensive than any other type of long-term care services - and therefore is more expensive. Services include room and board, day and night supervision, medical management, therapies, rehabilitation, and around-the-clock nursing care.
Note: The cost is slightly less for a semi-private nursing home room, $7,148 a month and $85,755 a year.
2017 cost: $8,121 a month, $97,455 a year.
Based on a private room.
Change from 2016: up 5.50%
One factor influencing those prices may be government oversight of hospitals, said Gordon Saunders, Senior Brand Manager at Genworth. Hospitals are under pressure to cut costs and get patients discharged more quickly. Patients who might have spent a week in the hospital in years back may now only spend three days. Once they then go to the nursing home for rehabilitation, they are sicker and require more care - and in turn, the nursing home may have to put more staff, or more experienced staff, on duty, Saunders said.
Assisted Living Facilities
Assisted living facilities help residents with daily living needs such as bathing, eating, dressing, and using the toilet. They generally do not provide medical care, but they do offer residents socialization, transportation, meals, and housekeeping.
Home Health Aid Services
2017 cost: $3,750 a month, $45,000 a year.
Based on a private, one-bedroom unit.
Change from 2016: up 3.36%
Home health aide services are more "hands-on" but still less extensive and much cheaper than Nursing Home Care and hospital care. Services including bathing, dressing, and assistance with eating.
2017 cost: $4,099 a month, $49,192 a year.
Based on 44 hours a week.
Change from 2016: up 6.17%
Homemaker services include laundry, cleaning, cooking, and running everyday errands. These are generally "hands-off" services.
2017 cost: $3,994 a month, $47,943 a year.
Based on 44 hours a week.
Change from 2016: up 4.75%
Community-Based Adult Day Health Care Facilities
Community-based adult day health care facilities relieve caretakers who are not able to watch their loved ones all day due to work or other responsibilities. Services include group activities, socialization, and supervision. Depending on the facility, clients may also have access to transportation, meals, and help managing medical needs and medications.
2017 cost: $1,517 a month, $18,200 a year.
Based on service 5 days a week.
Change from 2016: up 2.94%
November 21, 2017
There are several potential reasons for the hikes related to these types of care services (other than Nursing Home Care), Saunders said. They include the increasing demand for other types of care; an increase in minimum wage in some geographical areas, making other jobs more attractive and a 2015 federal law that requires more direct care workers be paid minimum wage and overtime pay.
How Genworth Got the Numbers
Genworth's annual Cost of Care Survey is one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, covering more than 47,000 long-term care providers nationwide who complete surveys for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers. The survey includes 440 regions which include all Metropolitan Statistical Areas defined by the 2015 Office of Management and Budget.
As elder law attorneys, we have the ability to help families facing these huge long-term care expenses. Please call Sally at 816-249-2122 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation about ways we can help save the family a lot of money in addition to reducing the stress and heartache that this financial burden puts on families.
November 6, 2017
Tactfully Approach Key Issues with Elderly Loved Ones This Season
Holiday family gatherings are often one of the few times the whole family can be together throughout the year. This time to catch up and reconnect makes for a joyous season. For adult children of elderly parents or loved ones, it can also provide an opportunity to assess needs and talk about some of the important issues around aging.
The transition into these later years in life can mark a challenging transition not only for the elderly themselves, but for the family members and friends that support them. It can be difficult for adult children to talk to their aging loved ones about issues from self-care to estate planning, to end-of-life care and wishes. Here are a few points to consider for discussing these subjects to help ensure that these conversations are more productive and comfortable rather than upsetting or stressful for all involved.
Identify the right time- and the right people
Bringing up inherently tough topics as the holiday turkey is being carved is definitely not a good idea. Tactfully approaching the conversation means finding the right time, and not otherwise spoiling a good or joyous occasion. The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be stressful enough for the elderly if they are away from home or out of their normal day-to-day routine. Be mindful of that and don't bombard them with questions or project your concerns or worries onto them.
It's also important to consider who should - and who shouldn't - be part of the conversation. Elder care is a private and sensitive matter, so it's best to involve only the necessary parties in the conversation. Even if several family members will be present, it's a good idea to appoint one person that can lead the conversation.
Pick a time where the necessary support network, including siblings, can be present. Respect your loved one's privacy and don't initiate conversations when friends or neighbors are present. You should also assess whether or not it's appropriate for conversations to take place when young children or grandchildren are present. Having children present can put added stress on your elderly loved one. Keep in mind that some of the topics may be uncomfortable, or even frightening for young children.
Most importantly, remember that sibling rivalries or other family issues have no place in these conversations. If there are underlying conflicts, discussing the needs and plans for elderly parents can cause those to rear their ugly heads. If you think there will be potential for conflict, address it with siblings before you talk to your parent or loved one, and come up with a solution to avoid arguments.
Make a list, and check it twice
No, not that kind of list. We're talking about making a list ahead of time of the most important issue and items that need to be addressed. Bombarding your elderly loved one with too many things at once can cause them stress.
Determine what the most important issues currently are, and use it to guide your conversation. For example, if your loved one is successfully living independently but you know they're done no estate planning, start a conversation about meeting with a professional to discuss options. Save the conversation about what their wishes are if and when they can no longer live independently for a later time.
Acknowledge your different perspectives
As a middle-aged adult, your responsibilities in life may be mounting. You may be balancing home ownership and child-rearing with a demanding career, while embracing each new challenge and opportunity that comes your way. Your aging loved one, however, is beginning to let go of some tasks and responsibilities in these later years of life and settling into retirement.
This can feel like a loss of independence and, understandably, they will likely be hesitant to relinquish the reins on the things they can still control. It's important to acknowledge this and to approach estate planning and elder care issues in a way that gives them a voice and choice over their own future.
If you attempt to make demands, or make decisions on their behalf, there will most certainly be a breakdown in communication that could be detrimental. By considering and embracing your different perspectives, however, you can learn to talk to your elderly loved one in a productive and caring manner. That way you'll encourage more open and honest conversation about all the issues that will arise in the coming years. And most importantly, you'll show your loved one that you'll advocate for them and that you have their best wishes and desires at heart.
Who Gets the Painting on the Living Room Wall?
By Jane L. Williams
Jane L. Williams, LLC
Estate Planning and Elder Law
One of the most difficult tasks for any fiduciary (i.e., executor or successor trustee) is distributing the deceased’s tangible personal property. Although it is possible to have a judge decide
the issue between disagreeing clients, Courts do not tolerate fights over tangible personal property well and neither party leaves the fray unscathed. The value of the personal property (albeit often sentimental value) rarely justifies the legal fees, time and angst necessary to resolve the dispute.
Many of the problems inherent in dividing property can be avoided by proper planning. The Will or Trust document should include the “rules” for dividing tangible personal property. The most common method is to allow the parties to divide the property as they agree within a specified amount of time. Many people use some system of taking turns among the beneficiaries, beginning with the oldest and moving round-robin until all the items are spoken for.
If a dispute arises between the parties when more than one party wants a particular item, the fiduciary has the responsibility of making the final decision. The fiduciary can be given guidance for this situation as part of the rules set forth in the Will or Trust document. Especially if the fiduciary is one of the disputing parties, it is highly recommended that a random method is used, so that there is no question of the fiduciary’s conflict of interest. Instructions can range from flipping a coin to participating in a high-card draw or playing best out “two out of three” in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Regardless of the outcome, the deceased’s beneficiaries will certainly get a kick out of whatever method their loved
one chose, adding a little levity to an otherwise difficult situation.
November 2, 2017
The lesson to be learned here is that you have the opportunity to determine a method of distribution, making it less likely your loved ones will fight over or strain a relationship over the painting on the living room wall.
Estate Planning for the Never-Married
By Fran Hawthorne
When Adam Cooperman opened a technology consulting firm in New York City eight years ago at age 33, he also prepared a will and other legal and medical documents. "If I have ll these professional matters, I should probably have my personal affairs in order, as well," he explained.
With no spouse or children, he divided his assets equally between his parents and his brother. Partly because those relatives were 3,000 miles away in California, he gave powers such as his health care proxy, or the right to make medical decisions if he is incapable, to "people that I valued as mentors, advisers and friends" who lived nearby.
Today Mr. Cooperman, still single and childless, has sold his business and is rethinking his estate plan. He might hand the non-financial powers, along with his assets, now in the low seven figures, to his relatives.
"I probably named some friends I'm not as close to anymore," he said. "But family is family."
For married couples and parents, such estate decisions are usually routine: The surviving partner and offspring get the money and the legal and medical authority.
However, more and more Americans are in a position similar to that of Mr. Cooperman. According to the Pew Research Center, 20 percent of adults age 25 and older in 2012 had never married, up from 9 percent in 1960.
The number of women age 40 to 44 who also have not borne children has seesawed, from 10 percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 2005 to 15 percent in 2014.
"We think we don't need to address these things until we're married or have children to protect," said Douglas A. Boneparth, a partner at a financial planning firm Life and Wealth Planning in New York City, who specializes in millennials. "But the need to spell these things out can be greater for someone who is single, because it's not obvious who you want making these decisions."
When people do not specify their intentions, most state laws follow fairly rigid genealogical rules of inheritance and chew up time and money in the process.
"It's better to come up with a choice, even if it's not exactly right, than not to make a choice and have your money go to distant relatives who you don't know or like," said Gary D. Altman, the founder and principal lawyer at Altman & Associates, an estate-planning law firm in Rockville, Md.
Estate-planning experts say the first choices as heirs are usually a longtime companion, nieces and nephews, and siblings, followed by parents, other relatives, then friends.
After that list, women and older clients are particularly likely to add charities, planners say. Experts also advise wealthy clients to consider charitable bequests to reduce estate taxes. Most popular are the donor's alma mater and medical causes that affected the donor's life, although planners have seen beneficiaries like animal shelters and scholarships for firefighters.
"It's their legacy - what the client wants to be known for," said Edward W. Gjersten II, president of the Financial Planning Association, a trade group based in Denver.
Determining how much to give each beneficiary is more nuanced.
When she wrote her will four years ago, Mary Reilly, now 52 and the owner of the MBA Nanny, a backup babysitting service in New York, divided her approximately $400,00 in assets equally between her two sisters. She omitted her longtime boyfriend, noting that "his net worth was fairly substantial."
That decision became moot when the couple later split up. And as she contemplates updating her documents, Ms. Reilly said she might reduce one sister's share to around 30 percent, because "she's married, and her husband has done pretty well." She might also carve out a combined 5 to 10 percent for her three nephews, now that all are over age 18.
"If I grow my wealth, I would consider a charity or my undergrad college," Ms. Reilly added. "But not Columbia Business School," where she earned her graduate degree: "They have more money than God."
Experts disagree on whether financial beneficiaries should also have legal and medical authority, as Mr. Cooperman is considering doing.
Stephanie J. Lee, founder of East Rock Financial Services, a financial advisory firm in San Francisco, warned that heirs might have difficulty coping with estate work "at a time when they're grieving."
Lawyers, accountants and bank trust officers can handle legal and financial tasks, but for sensitive medical decisions, experts suggest relatives or close friends who are geographically nearby and have enough time.
Ms. Reilly gave her then-boyfriend, rather than her sisters, her health care proxy, because "he understood more clearly that I would not want to stay alive forever."
In any case, people should review these decisions every five or so years, according to estate-planning experts.
For now, Andrea Reichenbach, 39, a New York marketer, named her parents and brother as the beneficiaries of assets she calls "modest by New York standards" and gave her brother her health care proxy.
If her life changes, "I would be thrilled to go to my lawyer and say, 'I have a partner and I want to adjust my will,'" Ms. Reichenbach said, laughing. "But why would I wait for that?"
October 26, 2017
If You Become Incapacitated, Will Your Family Know What to Do?
By Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CFP
My friend's 90-year-old mother was just diagnosed with early stage dementia. Unfortunately, she never provided any written or verbal guidance about her wishes for care, so my friend finds herself in a very tough spot. I want to make sure this never happens to me or to my loved ones. What do we need to do to prepare?
- A Reader
Contemplating the possibility of dementia is tough, whether you're talking about yourself or a loved one. We want to think that it only happens to the very elderly, someone in their 90s such as your friend's mother. And so we put it off. But according to the "2014 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, Alzheimer's & Dementia" report by the Alzheimer's Association, one in nine Americans age 65 or older have some form of dementia. And the annual number of new cases of Alzheimer's and other dementias is projected to double by 2050. It's scary. It's sobering. And to me, it means there's a real need to confront this possibility - and prepare for it - when we're young and clear headed enough to look at financial and healthcare decisions from a practical as well as emotional perspective.
Your friend's situation is a heartbreaking example and you're very wise to take steps now to prevent this from happening to you and your family. But no matter how forward thinking you are, it won't be easy. You may be willing to face the possibility of incapacity, but others may not be so comfortable with the idea, either for you or for themselves. So you may have to tread gently. Here are some thoughts on how to go about it.
Think realistically about care options
Exploring care options for someone with dementia is more of a challenge than with other diseases. That's because, while there is certainly the need for doctor's visits and medications covered by insurance, a lot of the care required by people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia involve more personal care -called the activities of daily living (ADLs). Where do you turn for help with eating, bathing, dressing or just making sure you don't injure yourself? These things aren't generally covered by health insurance.
Again, according to the report from the Alzheimer's Association, unpaid caregivers such as family members provide billions of hours of care. Professional care is available, such as assisted living, in-home care or adult daycare centers, but the costs can be a challenge. For instance, basic assisted living services average about $42,000 per year according to alz.org (as of 2015). And that's just the estimated average. I recently spoke with someone who was paying $12,000 a month to have both parents in assisted living with full care.
Your own family and financial circumstances may well determine what care might be available to you or to a loved one. But whether you'll have to rely on professional assistance or you have a supportive family network that can provide help, be aware that you'll be dealing with potentially significant emotional as well as financial costs.
Plan for the financial side
There's a whole list of costs you may have to deal with from ongoing medical care to home safety related expenses to full residential care.
Most insurance policies don't cover nursing home care or help with ADLs. And while Medicare covers some skilled home health care such as skilled nursing care, long-term care isn't covered. Medicaid is a possible solution, but it's only available when an individual has depleted most of their personal assets.
Unless your family has significant assets to self-insure, you may want to look into long-term care insurance. Here, too, you have to be cautious. Not every LTC policy covers Alzheimer's. And you want to make certain that a policy covers things like assisted living, skilled nursing home care and licensed home care.
There are, of course, other financial options. People with a lot of equity in their homes may see that as a potential source of funds. Others may max out a health savings account (HSA) every year and keep it in reserve for this type of care. Your retirement funds can also be a significant resource.
Talk to your family about the emotional side
Once you've thought through potential practical solutions, talk to your family. Be upfront about why you're bringing up the subject. Your friend's story could be a good starting point.
If you're talking to your parents, they may welcome the chance to discuss their own fears and desires. Your children may be more resistant, but make it clear that you're not being morbid, just realistic. And no matter what response you get, be willing to listen to everyone's concerns.
Put your paperwork in place
Basic paperwork includes an advanced healthcare directive, power of attorney for healthcare, a will and/or trust, and a durable power of attorney for finances. You'll find more specific information on legal documents for someone who's incapacitated at alz.org.
There's no one solution for every family. But thinking about it and planning ahead is something everyone should do. It also would be a good idea to consult with your financial advisor about the best way to prepare financially given your personal circumstances. I applaud you for being willing to tackle this very difficult subject.
October 21, 2017
2017 Estate Planning Awareness Week
In 2008, Congress declared the third week in October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week. This week is to be used for estate planning attorneys to spread the word about their services and why it is so important to put together an estate plan.
Here are a few common misconceptions people have about estate planning:
"I'm too young for an estate plan."
The sooner you plan, the less likely you will lose your savings to the high costs of long term care. Tragedy can strike anyone at any time. It's best to hope for the best but plan for the worst.
"Estate plans are just for the rich."
Regardless of the amount of assets you have, working with an estate planning attorney to put a comprehensive plan in place can save you and your loved ones not just thousands of dollars, but it will significantly reduce the emotional turmoil on your family.
"When I die, my kids will obviously just get everything."
Probate court is no place any family wants to be after a loved one dies. Creating a comprehensive estate plan is the only sure method to stay out of the courts, avoid unnecessary court fees, and make sure that your specific wishes are carried out.
Make this the week you contact someone to assist you with planning for yourself and your loved ones and you will receive the peace of mind such planning brings. Please call 816-249-2122 or email Sally at email@example.com to set up a free one-hour consultation.
October 10, 2017
What Your Aging Parents Aren't Telling You
By Patrick O'Brien
Whether it's due to pride, a desire to maintain their independence, or forgetfulness, if you have aging parents there are likely things they aren't telling you. And that can be both troubling and dangerous.
As parents age, communication matters more than ever, and your ability to keep your parents talking as they encounter new problems will be critical as your role in their lives evolves.
"I am having memory issues."
While memory problems aren't a given when we age, many of us will have to contend with diminishing cognitive abilities. Dementia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is "a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behavior and ability to perform everyday activities." Every four seconds someone in the world is diagnosed with dementia, according to WHO data.
Whether memory loss is dementia or not, a complicating matter is that many of us are reluctant to admit our memory is failing us. And as the adult child of a parent who is suffering memory problems, you might be equally reluctant to bring the topic up with your parent. Overlooking it, however, could put your parent and others at risk. Here's some steps to address the matter:
1. Assess the problem
- If you suspect memory loss is affecting your parent then you need to determine to what extent. Ideally, you can directly address the issue with your parent and ask if they are having any issues. Something as simple as saying, "Mom, I know everyone always talks about how our memory declines as we age. Have you noticed that?" is a great, non-accusatory way of starting a conversation. If you live near your parent, visit more often and just observe. Are they remembering to take our the trash on garbage pick-up day? Are they missing appointments? Is the fridge filled with outdated milk and other old foods? Are they eating and taking any needed medications? Simply by looking around their living space you should be able to get a basic idea of how they are doing or not doing things. Keep in mind the goal here is not to invade their privacy. But if your father starts missing a weekly lunch with friends that he has attended for 10 years, there could be a problem.
If you live out-of-town, try to arrange more frequent conversations and consider asking a friend or family member to set up a visit with your parent.
2. Get a second opinion
- If memory issues prove to be a problem, making an appointment with a doctor is recommended. The doctor can asses the memory problem and look for potential causes. Illness, certain medications, poor nutrition and other medical issues can cause cognitive and memory symptoms that often can be resolved. There also are treatments and medications that can slow memory loss in cases where dementia or Alzheimer's disease is suspected. In short, memory problems are not always a part of normal aging and we should not assume nothing can be done.
Encourage your parent to visit a doctor to find out what is causing the memory fog. Of course if you are concerned that your parent is not well enough to drive, make arrangements for them to get to the doctor or take them yourself.
3. Plan for the future
- Once you have a better read on the extent of your parent's memory issues, you can help plan for the future. If your parent is still able to live independently but has occasional forgetfulness, you can help them devise a plan to compensate for it. It could be as simple as getting a pocket calendar to jot down appointments. Or it could be more involved and require a daily check-in by a friend, family member or in-home caregiver. You might even need to look for an assisted living facility for your parent. You should discuss whether it's safe for your parent to be driving, if they do. If the memory loss is expected to get worse, it will be important to make sure you have the needed information to access their accounts and pay their bills. You also should discuss their final wishes and contact an attorney to make sure their will and estate is in order.
It can be hard to accept the reality of a parent's aging and seeing them lose their memory can be particularly difficult to watch. It's understandable that you might want to put off these tough discussions. But it's important to ask the questions while you can still get the answers you need in order to make sure your parent is cared for in the way they wish and that they are safe as you attempt to help meet their needs.
October 5, 2017
9 Life Changes That Require An Estate Plan Review
By Steve Cook
Updating your estate plan isn't something you think about too often. Why should it be? You're happy, healthy, and you have a good life. Letting the negative "what ifs" creep in only puts a damper on your day.
As painful as it is to consider, estate plans are critical. If anything happens to you, it's important to know your loved ones are taken care of and your wishes are honored. Throughout life, those last wishes change with the major events you go through.
Here are nine of the biggest life changing events that signal when you need to update your estate plan.
Did you know your spouse may not be the sole beneficiary or heir of your estate? Depending on the state where you live at the time of your death, who is entitled to benefit from your estate after your death is up in the air without a solid estate plan. For example, stepchildren do not inherit from step parents by default - in most, states they have to be specifically named in an estate plan.
To ensure your spouse, or anyone else gets particular belongings from your estate, you must outline it in your plan. Whenever you get married, take a look through the dispositive provisions of your estate plan and make any necessary adjustments.
Generally, a marriage license does not mean your new spouse will receive your entire estate after your death. Instead, the laws of most states provide that your new spouse will share in your estate assets in conjunction with your children from a previous marriage unless you change this default through a will, living trust, or other estate planning vehicle.
If you get remarried, it's important that you update your estate plan to include your spouse and his or her stepchildren, if any.
Once a divorce decree has been entered by a court, the laws of many states automatically disinherit a former spouse. Still, if you included provisions in your estate plan that give specific property to your former spouse by name, you may need to change your plan in order to disinherit him or her going forward.
4. The Birth of a Child
Congratulations! Your life has forever changed by welcoming a little bundle of joy into the world. This change is worthy of updating your estate plan to protect your child or children.
Updating your estate plan after the birth of a child goes way beyond your assets. The first order of business in an estate plan is to nominate guardians to care for your children in case something happens to you. If you don't, you could risk having your children cared for by guardians you didn't approve.
If you adopted a child, the same rules apply. You will need to designate a guardian to care for your child as well.
5. The Death of a Beneficiary
The death of a loved one is one of the hardest things you'll ever experience. Chances are, updating your estate plan is far from your mind. Still, it's an important step that must not be forgotten.
If our beneficiary dies, you will need to ensure your estate plan does what you want. For example, if your beneficiary had children and you want his or her portion to go to the children, you oftentimes must specify that. Instead of declaring that basis for the allocations of your property is "per capita", often times you must specify that the basis for allocation should be "per stirpes,".
6. Illness or Disability
One of the most overlooked aspects of estate planning is illness or disability. Who will care for you if you become incapacitated? There are many decisions that must be made regarding your care. Articulating, your desires before you become ill, disabled, or incapacitated, can save everyone heartache down the road.
On the other hand, what would happen to your estate if you passed away and one of your beneficiaries became incapacitated? Receiving money from your estate could actually harm them instead of help by causing him or her to be ineligible for needs-based government care programs.
Plan for both of these by updating your estate plan before you become incapacitated or in the event your loved one becomes disabled or ill.
7. A Substantial Increase in Assets or Income
Did you get a significant increase in pay? Did you buy a new home worth significantly more than your previous home? Having more money or assets is a positive thing until you and your beneficiaries become subject to federal or state estate taxes or to potentially costly estate administration proceedings.
By structuring your estate properly, you could minimize these taxes, keep more money in the your pockets, and avoid a potentially costly estate administration.
8. Moving to Another State
Each state has their own unique set of estate laws. Although many of them are fairly consistent, the small changes are enough to make a difference in how your estate plan is executed when needed.
Upon moving to a new state, have your estate plan reviewed by a lawyer. This way, you'll have confidence that the provisions of your estate plan will have the same effect in your new state.
9. Changes in the Law
The law is constantly fluctuating. Both federal estate tax laws and the trust and probate laws of states change on a regular basis. In addition, HIPPA requirements are consistently being updated. Whenever this happens, your estate plan is at risk. Check it over to make sure everything is set up the way you want it to be.
The only thing you can expect in life is the unexpected. Planning ahead and keeping your estate plan constantly updated will help you sleep better at night knowing your family is protected if anything ever happens to you.
September 27, 2017
The Equifax Data Breach
Emergency Preparedness Month: "Disasters Don't Plan Ahead. You Can."
(Orginigally published September 5, 2017)
Kathleen Votava, Aging Services Program Specialist at ACL
September is National Preparedness Month and this year's theme is "Disasters Don't Plan Ahead. You Can." In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the devastation that emergencies like this can cause, it is a timely moment to remind everyone to make their emergency preparedness plans and to also share helpful resources. As yet another hurricane brews in the Atlantic, we extend support from ACL to plan, prepare, and recover from natural disasters.
Emergencies can happen anywhere and without warning so with a little advance thinking and actions, people and their communities can be better ready to cope when a disaster occurs. Advanced preparation is especially important for older adults and people with disabilities because there may have additional needs to consider, including medical issues, accessibility, transportation, and more.
The federal government has guidance and resources on emergency preparedness planning at Ready.gov
, including information specifically for older adults
and people with disabilities
. Emergency preparedness tips include:
Plan a support network in advance with a contact list.
Build an emergency kit with your unique considerations in mind with what you need to maintain your health, safety and independence. For example, include any specialized items that you may need such as extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen, catheters, medication, food for service animals, and any other items that you might need.
Wear medical alert tags, bracelets, or have this information with you.
Prepare alternate plans for help if you use assistive technology, communications devices, and accessible transportation.
Include your service animals and pets in your emergency plans including the kit and plan for alternative options as not all shelters may accept pets.
Plan for a power outage.
ACL has also compiled resources for individuals, service providers, and communities for emergency preparedness
. The page includes links to handy preparedness checklists for individuals and families, plus hotlines for emergency situations.
Organizations providing services to people with disabilities and older adults should also do emergency preparedness planning. Guidance for organizations can be accessed at ready.gov/business
. ACL encourages grantees to be proactive in communicating with their project officer at the agency so that needs and information can be shared in a timely way. For example, Independent Living grantees will receive a response to request to complete prior to a disaster (whenever possible).
ACL recently released new emergency planning guidance for the Independent Living Network in the form of a frequently asked questions document about disaster response and emergency relief efforts for people with disabilities
ACL also supports the aging network with emergency preparation efforts with resources on the website
. Check out an upcoming webinar with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about "Preparedness Planning for Senior Citizen Communities"
on September 26 at noon ET. Additionally, it's important for long-term care facilities to plan for emergencies and CMS has a checklist
Community preparedness resources
are also available on the ACL webpage, including links to guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In order to assist people with disabilities and older adults during and after an emergency, it is critical that emergency planners take a "whole-community" approach by including these individuals and service providers into the preparation process. This means planning should include long-term services and support providers, health care facilities, Area Agencies on Aging, Centers for Independent Living, Protection & Advocacy organizations, Developmental Disability Councils, and Aging and Disability Resource Centers, among others in the planning. These organizations can help plan and coordinate during emergencies, as well as enhance practice scenarios with state and local emergency management agencies and first responders.
While we are ever hopeful to avoid emergency situations, the best solution is to always be prepared to minimize danger and maximize our nationwide ability to successfully respond.
Additional Emergency Preparedness Resources:
Have you been affected? If so, how can you try to protect yourself?
Provided by Wealth Management Group of KC
On September 7, credit reporting agency Equifax dropped a consumer bombshell. It revealed that cybercriminals had gained access to the personal information of as many as 143 million Americans between May and July - about 44% of the U.S. population. The culprits were able to retrieve roughly 209,000 credit card numbers, in addition to many Social Security and driver's license numbers.
Equifax has set up a website for consumers to determine the impact from the breech, however, it has been reported that there have been ongoing issues with the website. The following Equifax link, https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com has updated information on the issues and how Equifax is resolving them.
Another source of information is the Federal Trade Commission website: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do
How should you respond? Consider placing a temporary security freeze on your credit files by calling the three bureaus once every 90 days. Doing so will make it impossible for criminals to open any new accounts in your name. There may be a small fee ($10-$15) to put on or take off the freeze. You will also have to take a few extra steps if you need to obtain any new credit for yourself during a credit freeze.
Equifax - 1-866-447-7559
Experian - 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion - 1-888-909-8872
Check your credit reports now. (Unless you have already done so in the past month). You can get one free credit report per year from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. To request yours, go to www.annualcreditreport.com. Scrutinize your credit card and bank account statements for unfamiliar activity, and sign up for email or text alerts offered by your bank or credit card issuer(s), so that notice of anything suspicious can quickly reach you.
Consider changing the password for your main email account. A weak password on that account is a low bar for a cybercrook to hurdle - and once hurdled, that crook could potentially pose as you to change the passwords on your financial accounts.
File your taxes as early as possible. Tax fraud often occurs early in the tax season. Hackers can use your social security number to obtain a fraudulent tax refund.
If someone call you out of the blue claiming to be from Equifax, do not cooperate with them. Unless Equifax is returning your call, they will not contact you by phone. The same applies if you get a random, unsolicited email or text from "Equifax" - do not comply, or you may inadvertently hand over personal information to a fraudster.
September 11, 2017
What Estate Planners Want You to Know About Death and Dying
By Jeena Cho
I tend to think about death and dying quite often. Recently, several close friends were diagnosed with cancer and it brought up this topic in my mind again. However, the one event that really forced me to pause and consider this topic was a recent incident on a flight to D.C.
I got up to use the restroom and the next thing I knew, I was in the back galley of the airplane with two flight attendants standing over me, looking concerned. One woman kept repeating, "Are you okay?" Piecing together the conversations between the flight attendants and the passenger (who was standing behind me), I learned that I had lost consciousness and fortunately, didn't hit my head on my way down. A few minutes later, after a healthy dose of orange juice, I stood up and once again lost consciousness.
In that moment when I lost consciousness, the thought that flashed through my mind was, "Hmm, I wonder if this is how one dies."
This experience made me pause and think more deeply about death and dying. But perhaps more importantly, about the time between this moment and death. Over the next few weeks, I plan on exploring this topic from different angles but since I am a lawyer, I thought I'd start with the legal end of death.
When I interviewed estate planning lawyers about death and dying, this is what they shared.
1. It's normal to have emotions about planning for your death.
The first obstacle clients must work with in developing an estate plan is the mixed emotions regarding property transfers upon their death. Without an estate plan your assets may go to unintended beneficiaries with unnecessary tax and other liabilities upon your death. Some clients resist the process, although even coming to my office is a big step in estate planning which demonstrates a willingness to begin a dialogue. Many people do estate planning out of obligation, often fueled by a spouse or other interested family member. Others don't share this sense of obligation and don't want to be bothered. Some clients tackle estate planning head on and report breakthroughs in family communication and a great sense of accomplishment when the documents are finally signed.
- John O'Grady, estate planning attorney, San Fransisco, Calif.
2. No one gets a free pass. It's going to happen.
Death happens to everyone- some sooner than others. You are not immune. As cliché as it is, it is true that tomorrow isn't promised. So, just because you aren't ready to accept the fact that one day you will die, that it will happen, you should still be prepared - if not for you, for your loved ones who will be faced with making decisions for you.
- Carmen M. Rosas, estate planning attorney, Redwood City, Calif.
3. Plan for your death, for the sake of the living.
If you've ever lost a loved one, you know the pain that comes along with it. The loss alone is heartbreaking. Add in the decisions leading up to the death. Electing a person to make life-altering decisions. Selecting a funeral or burial or cremation location. Deciding on a memorial or a viewing to remember them by. Paperwork, attorneys, bills. It's emotional and stressful. By creating an estate plan ahead of time, you ease the chaos when you do die. Be self-less. Create an estate plan.
- Carmen M. Rosas, estate planning attorney, Redwood City, Calif.
4. Communicate your wishes.
The road to solid estate planning is paved with communication. Get your trusted loved ones and advisors involved. The fewer surprises to your survivors after your death, the less chance there will be confusion or disputes. An estate plan is a great idea regardless of your net worth.
- John O'Grady, estate planning attorney, San Fransisco, Calif.
5. Your plan is just that - a plan. It can change.
You will learn much by living with your plan for a while. Plans are made to be changed. Review all of your estate planning documents and beneficiary designations every 3-5 years and after any major life event (e.g. marriage/divorce, death, birth, significant change in financial situation, move or change in property ownership). You may amend your estate plans during your lifetime.
- John O'Grady, estate planning attorney, San Fransisco, Calif.
Of course, estate planning is simply one aspect of death and dying. What topics related to death and dying are on your mind? Please share in the comments.
Link to original article:
September 6, 2017
The Most Important Estate Planning Issue Boomers Need to Address
By Kelley Long
If you're like me, with parents who are retired but still very self-sufficient, concerns about elder financial abuse or my Boomer parents' inability to handle their own affairs is seemingly something that their generation needs to worry about, not me. But as I reflect this Mother's Day on how fortunate I am to still have both parents living (and quite robustly) into their mid-60's, I realize that this issue is no longer something for Other People. I need to have these conversations with my mom and dad right now while they are still operating at their best. While I dread the day that things change, acting like it won't happen won't make it any easier when one or both of them do ned additional help.
Living Well and Living Longer
By the year 2050, it is estimated that 1 out of every 5 Americans will be over the age of 65, with people aged 85+ the fastest growing demographic in the nation. The good news is that people are living longer, even with chronic diseases that used to lead to early death. (92% of seniors are living with at least one chronic disease; 77% with two or more.)
The challenge is that this requires different planning than the traditional practice of simply having a power of attorney in place to help in case of incapacity and making sure the will is up-to-date to include the intended heirs. As this demographic continues to grow, so will instances of fraud and financial abuse of seniors. As approximately 3.5 million Baby Boomers enter retirement each year, the time to make sure your estate planning documents protect you or your parents from fraud and abuse is now. In fact, experts recommend making a bulk of these major financial decisions by age 50.
Beyond the Basics
The big issue here is that when most estate plans are created, particularly with married couples, both spouses are of very sound mind and the natural inclination is simply to name each other as agents in case of incapacity. This is fine, but it's important to make sure that there are contingent situations addressed as well. For example, what happens it they divorce? Between 1990 and 2010, the divorce rate doubled for people over the age of 50 and more than doubled for those over 65. Or alternatively, consider a case where neither spouse is incapacitated in terms of being able to function in daily life, but both need assistance with things like paying bills due to declining writing abilities from Parkinson's or arthritis.
Having a trusted person named in legal documents to help with those things ahead of time is the best way to make sure that finances are protected without having to give up complete control. So how do you make sure that you, your parents or other aging loved ones have the right plans in place BEFORE they're needed? Here are some tips and things to consider.
You're Asking a Lot
First, it's important to consider what's really being asked of the person name as an agent. My grandparents named my CPA/CFO uncle as their power of attorney, correctly assuming he was best suited to handle financial affairs due to his profession. This worked out well, but was a major added burden to my uncle's life for the years that my grandparents resided in a nursing home. Had they needed this type of assistance earlier in life when my cousins were still home keeping my uncle busy, he may not have been able to perform the duties with the same level of care that my grandpa paid when he was handling them. Think about the imposition, both when you're selecting your own agent and in instances when you may be asked to serve and make sure the one you're naming is ok with this.
For people who don't have a spouse and/or capable children to name, there is an added challenge of identifying the best person. Our natural inclination is to think of relatives, but physical proximity is important and practically necessary. An attorney or accountant could be good back-ups, as long as the particular professionals named are younger. This is an instance where you actually don't want one of your peers to be helping you.
It's Not Just Mental Incapacity
Second, think outside of the typical "incapacity box" when creating documents. We tend to focus on extremes when we do our plans, but there's a strong chance that the power of attorney will be needed before complete incapacity strikes. The agent may need to step in jut to help sign checks or set up auto-bill paying for someone who can still make their own financial decisions, but just needs help carrying them out.
What You Need to Know Ahead of Time
Third, the best way to avoid causing financial havoc for yourself due to declining memory or by becoming a victim of fraud is to provide your agent with a baseline of what's normal. A recent study found that more than one third of long-term care policy holders were letting their policies lapse at age 65, just about the time when they may need them. Part of the reason for this lapse is likely due to memory problems. The best way to ensure that you keep important policies in effect is to have a back-up person "checking your work" to spot potential lapses before it's too late.
If you're personally named as someone's agent in a POA document, don't wait until the power kicks in to learn how your loved one's finances should be handled. One way to get a sense of what's needed ahead of time is to suggest that your loved one have their accountant prepare a monthly write-up of the bills that were paid, just so you can have an historical record when you do take over. That way your loved one continues to manage his or her own affairs, but you and the accountant can keep an eye out for signs of abuse or decline through changes in the normal cash flow activity.
The best person to assist with putting the documents in place is an estate planning attorney. Just be sure before you sit down with that attorney that you've thought through some of the less obvious reasons you may need a power of attorney and have those conversations far in advance of when they may be needed. No one wants to think about the day that they or their loved ones need added assistance with life, but the day will come and when it does, everyone will be glad that proper plans were made in advance.
Link to original article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/financialfinesse/2016/05/08/the-most-imporant-estae-planning-issue-boomers-need-to-address/#468246db68cc
August 29, 2017
The Costs of Dementia: For the Patient and the Family
A recent report from the Alzheimer’s Association states that one in nine Americans age 65 or older currently have Alzheimer’s. With the baby boomer generation aging and people living longer, that number may nearly triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s, of course, is just one cause of dementia—mini-strokes (TIAs) are also to blame—so the number of those with dementia may actually be higher.
Caring for someone with dementia is more expensive—and care is often needed longer—than for someone who does not have dementia. Because the cost of care in a facility is out of reach for many families, caregivers are often family members who risk their own financial security and health to care for a loved one.
In this issue of The ElderCounselor, we will explore these issues and steps families can take to alleviate some of these burdens.
Cost of Care for the Patient with Dementia—And How to Pay for It
As the disease progresses, so does the level of care the person requires—and so do the costs of that care. Options range from in-home care (starting at $46,332 per year) to adult daycare (starting at $17,676 per year) to assisted living facilities ($43,536 per year) to nursing homes ($82,128 per year for a semi-private room). These are the national average costs in 2016 as provided by Genworth in its most recent study. Costs have risen steadily over the past 13 years since Genworth began tracking them.
Care for a person with dementia can last years, and there are few outside resources to help pay for this kind of care. Health insurance does not cover assisted living or nursing home facilities, or help with activities of daily living (ADL), which include eating, bathing and dressing. Medicare covers some in-home health care and a limited number of days of skilled nursing home care, but not long-term care. Medicaid, which does cover long-term care, was designed for the indigent; the person’s assets must be spent down to almost nothing to qualify. VA benefits for Aid & Attendance will help pay for some care, including assisted living and nursing home facilities, for veterans and their spouses who qualify.
Those who have significant assets can pay as they go. Home equity and retirement savings can also be a source of funds. Long-term care insurance may also be an option, but many people wait until they are not eligible or the cost is prohibitive.
However, for the most part, families are not prepared to pay these extraordinary costs, especially if they go on for years. As a result, family members are often required to provide the care for as long as possible.
Financial Costs for the Family
Women routinely serve as caregivers for spouses, parents, in-laws and friends. While some men do serve as caregivers, women spend approximately 50% more time caregiving than men. The financial impact on women caregivers is substantial. In another Genworth study, Beyond Dollars 2015, more than 60% of the women surveyed reported they pay for care with their own savings and retirement funds. These expenses include household expenses, personal items, transportation services, informal caregivers and long-term care facilities. Almost half report having to reduce their own quality of living in order to pay for the care. In addition, absences, reduced hours and chronic tardiness can mean a significant reduction in a caregiver’s pay. 77% of those surveyed missed time from work in order to provide care for a loved one, with an average of seven hours missed per week. About one-third of caregivers provide 30 or more hours of care per week, and half of those estimate they lost around one-third of their income. More than half had to work fewer hours, felt their career was negatively affected and had to leave their job as the result of a long-term care situation. Caregivers who lose income also lose retirement benefits and social security benefits. They may be sacrificing their children’s college funds and their own retirement. Other family members who contribute to the costs of care may also see their standard of living and savings reduced.
Emotional and Physical Costs to Caregivers
In addition to the financial costs, caregivers report increased stress, anxiety and depression. The Genworth study found that while a high percentage of caregivers have some positive feelings about providing care for their loved one, almost half also experienced depression, mood swings and resentment, and admitted the event negatively affected their personal health and well-being. About a third reported an extremely high level of stress and said their relationships with their family and spouse were affected. More than half did not feel qualified to provide physical care and worried about the lack of time for themselves and their families.
Providing care to someone with dementia increases the levels of distress and depression higher than caring for someone without dementia. People with dementia may wander, become aggressive and often no longer recognize family members, even those caring for them. Caregivers can become exhausted physically and emotionally, and the patient may simply become too much for them to handle, especially when the caregiver is an older person providing care for his/her ill spouse. This can lead to feelings of failure and guilt. In addition, these caregivers often have high blood pressure, an increased risk of developing hypertension, spend less time on preventative care and have a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease.
What can be done?
Planning is important. Challenges that caregivers face include finding relief from the emotional stress associated with providing care for a loved one, planning to cover the responsibilities that could jeopardize the caregiver’s job or career, and easing financial pressures that strain a family’s budget. Having options—additional caregivers, alternate sources of funds, respite care for the caregiver—can help relieve many of these stresses. In addition, there are a number of legal options to help families protect hard-earned assets from the rising costs of long term care, and to access funds to help pay for that care.
The best way to have those options when they are needed is to plan ahead, but most people don’t. According to the Genworth survey, the top reasons people fail to plan are they didn’t want to admit care was needed; the timing of the long-term care need was unforeseen or unexpected; they didn’t want to talk about it; they thought they had more time; and they hoped the issue would resolve itself. Waiting too late to plan for the need for long-term care, especially for dementia, can throw a family into confusion about what Mom or Dad would want, what options are available, what resources can help pay for care and who is best-suited to help provide hands-on care, if needed.
Having the courage to discuss the possibility of incapacity and/or dementia before it happens can go a long way toward being prepared should that time come.
Watch for early signs of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) has prepared a list of signs and symptoms that can help individuals and family members recognize the beginnings of dementia. Early diagnosis provides the best opportunities for treatment, support and planning for the future. Some medications can slow the progress of the disease, and new discoveries are being made every year.
Take good care of the caregiver. Caregivers need support and time off to take care of themselves. Arrange for relief from outside caregivers or other family members. All will benefit from joining a caregiver support group to share questions and frustrations, and learn how other caregivers are coping. Caregivers need to determine what they need to maintain their stamina, energy and positive outlook. That may include regular exercise (a yoga class, golf, walk or run),
a weekly Bible study, an outing with friends, or time to read or simply watch TV.
If the main caregiver currently works outside the home, they can inquire about resources that might be available. Depending on how long they expect to be caring for the person, they may be able to work on a flex time schedule or from home. Consider whether other family members can provide compensation to the one who will be the main caregiver.
Seek assistance. Find out what resources might be available. A local Elder Law attorney can prepare necessary legal documents, help maximize income, retirement savings and long-time care insurance, and apply for VA or Medicaid benefits. He or she will also be familiar with various living communities in the area and in-home care agencies.
Caring for a loved one with dementia is more demanding and more expensive for a longer time than caring for a loved one without dementia. It requires the entire family to come together to discuss and explore all options so that the burden of providing care is shared by all. We help families who may need long term care by creating an asset protection plan that will provide peace of mind to all. If we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to call.
August 28, 2017
Financial Abuse of Elderly is a Crime in Kansas
Kansas Legal Services
Thanks to a new law in Kansas, financial abuse of an elder is a serious crime and there are consequences.
Do you know someone who is being financially abused by a trusted person or power of attorney? It's not longer a "family issue." It is a crime.
A law was passed during last year's legislative session. It makes it a crime to take money from elders who are 70 years or older and for powers of attorney to misuse funds.
Indicators of financial abuse
A recent contact expresses an interest in finances, promises to give care, or cozies up with the elder.
A relative or caregiver has no visible means of support and is overly interested in the elder's financial affairs.
A relative or caregiver is hesitant to spend money for needed medical treatment for the elder.
The utility and other bills are not being paid
The elder's placement, care, or possessions clash with the size of his or her estate.
A relative or caregiver isolates the elder, makes excuses when friends or family call or visit, and does not give the elder messages.
A relative or caregiver gives unlikely reasons about finances, and the elder is unaware of or unable to explain the arrangements made.
Checking account and credit card statements are sent to a relative or caregiver and are not open to the elder.
At the bank, the elder is escorted by a relative or caregiver who refuses to let the elder speak for him- or herself. The elder appears nervous or afraid of the person going with him or her.
The elder is concerned or confused about "missing money."
There are suspicious signatures on the elder's checks, or the elder signs checks and another party fills in the payee and amount sections.
There is an odd amount of banking activity, mainly just after joint accounts are set up or someone new starts helping with the elder's finances.
A will, power of attorney, or other legal document is drafted, but the elder does not understand its effects.
Jane L. Williams, LLC can provide the necessary documentation to protect yourself and your loved ones from family member financial abuse and can recommend a criminal lawyer if you or a loved one is already suffering from a family member’s misconduct. Please call us at 816-249-2122 or email Sally at firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
Where to report abuse:
In the event financial abuse or any type of abuse is suspected, please contact the following right away:
Kansas Department for Children and Families/Adult Protective Services
Please share the video below and help spread the word about this important issue in Kansas!
Video about financial abuse
Another resource for you is LeadingAge Kansas, an association of 160 not-for-profit aging services providers that serve the needs of aging Kansans. LeadingAge Kansas advances policies, promotes practices and learning that empowers their members to help seniors live fully as they age.
Check out the KLS Services for Seniors page.
August 24, 2017
Top Reasons Everyone Needs a Comprehensive Power of Attorney
The benefits of a highly detailed, comprehensive power of attorney are numerous. Unfortunately, many powers of attorney are more general in nature and can actually cause more problems than they solve, especially for our senior population. This issue of the ElderCounselor highlights the benefits of a comprehensive, detailed power of attorney, including some of the provisions that should be included. A proper starting point is to emphasize that the proper use of a power of
attorney as an estate planning and elder law document depends on the reliability and honesty of the appointed agent.
The agent under a power of attorney has traditionally been called an "attorney-in- fact" or sometimes just "attorney." However, confusion over these terms has encouraged the terminology to change so more recent state statutes tend to use the label "agent" for the person receiving power by the document.
Let’s look at the top benefits of having a comprehensive durable power of attorney.
1. Provides the ability to choose who will make decisions for you (rather than a court).
If someone has signed a power of attorney and later becomes incapacitated and unable to make decisions, the agent named can step into the shoes of the incapacitated person and make important financial decisions. Without a power of attorney, a guardianship or conservatorship may need to be established, and can be very expensive.
2. Avoids the necessity of a guardianship or conservatorship.
Someone who does not have a comprehensive power of attorney at the time they become incapacitated would have no alternative than to have someone else petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator. The court will choose who is appointed to manage the financial and/or health affairs of the incapacitated person, and the court will continue to monitor the situation as long as the incapacitated person is alive. While not only a costly process, another detriment is the
fact that the incapacitated person has no input on who will be appointed to serve.
3. Provides family members a good opportunity to discuss wishes and desires.
There is much thought and consideration that goes into the creation of a comprehensive power of attorney. One of the most important decisions is who will serve as the agent. When a parent or loved one makes the decision to sign a power of attorney, it is a good opportunity for the parent to discuss wishes and expectations with the family and, in particular, the person named as agent in the power of attorney.
4. The more comprehensive the power of attorney, the better.
As people age, their needs change and their power of attorney should reflect that. Seniors have concerns about long-term care, applying for government benefits to pay for care, as well as choosing the proper care providers. Without allowing, the agent to perform these tasks and more, precious time and money may be wasted.
5. Prevents questions about principal's intent.
Many of us have read about court battles over a person's intent once that person has become incapacitated. A well-drafted power of attorney, along with other health care directives, can eliminate the need for family members to argue or disagree over a loved one's wishes. Once written down, this document is excellent evidence of their intent and is difficult to dispute.
6. Prevents delays in asset protection planning.
A comprehensive power of attorney should include all of the powers required to do effective asset protection planning. If the power of attorney does not include a specific power, it can greatly dampen the agent's ability to complete the planning and could result in thousands of dollars lost. While some powers of attorney seem long, it is necessary to include all of the powers necessary to carry out proper planning.
7. Protects the agent from claims of financial abuse.
Comprehensive powers of attorney often allow the agent to make substantial gifts to self or others in order to carry out asset protection planning objectives. Without the power of attorney authorizing this, the agent (often a family member) could be at risk for financial abuse allegations.
8. Allows agents to talk to other agencies.
An agent under a power of attorney is often in the position of trying to reconcile bank charges, make arrangements for health care, engage professionals for services to be provided to the principal, and much more. Without a comprehensive power of attorney giving authority to the agent, many companies will refuse to disclose any information or provide services to the incapacitated person. This can result in a great deal of frustration on the part of the family, as well as lost time and money.
9. Allows an agent to perform planning and transactions to make the principal eligible for public benefits.
One could argue that transferring assets from the principal to others in order to make the principal eligible for public benefits-- Medicaid and/or non-service- connected Veterans Administration benefits-- is not in the best interests of the principal, but rather in the best interests of the transferees. In fact, one reason that a comprehensive durable power of attorney is essential in elder law is that a Judge may not be willing to authorize a conservator to protect assets for others while enhancing the ward/protected person's eligibility for public benefits. However, that may have been the wish of the incapacitated person and one that would remain unfulfilled if a power of attorney were not in place.
10. Provides immediate access to critical assets.
A well-crafted power of attorney includes provisions that allow the agent to access critical assets, such as the principal’s digital assets or safety deposit box, to continue to pay bills, access funds, etc. in a timely manner. Absent these provisions, court approval will be required before anyone can access these assets. Digital assets are also important because older powers of attorney did not address digital assets, yet more and more individuals have digital accounts.
11. Provides peace of mind for everyone involved.
Taking the time to sign a power of attorney lessens the burden on family members who would otherwise have to go to court to get authority for performing basic tasks, like writing a check or arranging for home health services. Knowing this has been taken care of in advance is of great comfort to families and loved ones.
This discussion of the Reasons Why Everyone Needs a Comprehensive Power of Attorney could be expanded by many more. Which benefits are most important depends on the situation of the principal and their loved ones. This is why a comprehensive power of attorney is so essential: Nobody can predict exactly which powers will be needed in the future. The planning goal is to have a power of attorney in place that empowers a succession of trustworthy agents to do whatever needs to be done in the future. Please call us if we can be of assistance in any way or if you have any questions about durable powers of attorney.
August 15, 2017
The Impact of Caregiving on Women
By Valerie Peterson, J.D.
Women routinely serve as caregivers for spouses, parents, in-laws and friends. In fact, an estimated 66% of all caregivers are female.  The value of the informal care women provide has been estimated as high as $188 billion annually.  While some men serve as caregivers, women spend approximately 50% more time caregiving than men. 
When it comes to caring for a loved one with dementia, a recent study showed the out-of-pocket cost for the patient with dementia were the highest of any other disease, in large part due to the need for caregivers – the cost of which is not covered by Medicare.  In responding to the results of the study, Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a geriatrician at the University of California in San Francisco stated, ‘It’s stunning that people who start out with the least end up with even less. It’s scary. And they haven’t even counted some of the costs, like the daughter who gave up time from work and is losing part of her retirement and her children’s college fund.”
The financial impact on women caregivers is quite substantial. It reduces work hours by around 41%, and can result in a financial loss of over $324,000 based on lost wages and social security benefits.  And worse, a 2004 study conducted by Rice University found that women who are family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty, and 5 times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 
The mental and physical effects of caregiving have also been well-documented. Increased stress, anxiety and depression are common effects of caregiving. When
caring for a spouse, women are nearly 6 times as likely to suffer depressive or anxious symptoms as non-caregiver spouses.  Providing care to someone with dementia increases the levels of distress and depression higher than caring for someone without dementia. 
Physical effects include higher blood pressure, increased risk of developing hypertension, less time spent on preventative care and a higher risk of developing
coronary heart disease. 
It is clear that women are at great risk when providing care to a loved one. Their financial stability is at risk, and they are at greater risk of developing mental and
physical ailments. Are they at risk for negative long-term effects as well, including a higher death rate? If you are interested in additional information on this topic, a recent study titled, “The Long-Term Effects of Caregiving on Women’s Health and Mortality” was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in October, 2016.
 Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures, https://www.caregiver.org/women-and-caregiving-facts- and-figures.
 Costs for Dementia Care Far Exceeding Other Diseases, Study Finds. New York Times, Oct. 26, 2015.
 Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures, https://www.caregiver.org/women-and-caregiving-facts- and-figures.
 Physical and Mental Health Effects of Family
August 7, 2017
THE COLLEGE PLAN
If your son or daughter is heading to college, you have worked out transportation, bedding for their dorm room, a weekly or monthly spending allowance and many other practical items. By this time, you have undoubtedly checked most everything on the to-do list as your child gets ready to launch into a college life.
However (and it is a big HOWEVER), before your child heads out of the house, there are some important, yet often overlooked, necessary legal preparations to make the transition smooth.
An 18-year- old College Student is Considered a Legal Adult
You are the same parent you have been through all of those 18 years, but your legal right to make decisions for your child changes abruptly. Except in unusual
circumstances, you will no longer have automatic access to your child’s health and financial records - even if you are paying their tuition. Privacy laws, like HIPAA, will limit your ability to obtain this information. If the laws are followed as they should be, you will be unable to learn about your child’s condition or health, even if he/she is hospitalized. As a parent, you will be unable to make healthcare decisions or take financial actions to protect your child’s health and assets once your child is 18. Establishing your legal ability to gain access to your child’s medical and financial records and to be able to act on those accordingly is critical. For that reason, we recommend taking the following steps before (or as soon after as possible) your child leaves for school:
1. Name a Healthcare Agent under a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
Have your child sign a durable power of attorney for health care, appointing you or another responsible adult the power to access his or her medical information and make medical decisions on your child’s behalf, if necessary. Without having this in place, you will need court approval (a Court Order) to act on his or her behalf if your child is in an accident and becomes, even temporarily, disabled. This document will also allow doctors and other healthcare providers to share information about your child’s condition.
As a part of the College Plan, we offer a service, including a card to keep in their wallet or with their phone, that will allow access to all of the necessary information for a healthcare facility or provider to know that you may make medical decisions and be privy to all healthcare information for your child and how to contact you in an emergency.
2. Appoint a Durable Power of Attorney
Arrange for your child to sign a durable power of attorney to appoint you, or another responsible family member or friend, as an agent to act on his or her behalf, if need be, in a variety of financial and legal matters. For example, if your child is studying abroad for a semester, having a power of attorney makes it easier for you to contact the local embassy or wire money from your child’s bank account. It could also be important if you need to sign a legal document, such as a lease, in your child’s absence.
This document is also part of our College Plan, which includes a card to your child to carry with him or her so that you or your child can let a financial provider
know that you have been appointed the Financial Agent for your child and may have access to and make decisions about your child’s financial information.
3. Make Your Wishes Known through a Living Will (Advance Directive)
Through signing this document, your child will be expressing what specific areas of living he or she considers important to maintain a quality of life. This document, in
tandem with the Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, is a gift your child gives to you to provide you guidance if you are ever put in the untenable position of making end of life decisions.
As a part of the College Plan, this document is also part of the service we offer to be included with the information on a card your child can carry with the necessary
information for a healthcare facility or provider to know that you may make medical decisions and be privy to all healthcare information for your child.
Please reach out to as today to schedule a time for you and your child to take advantage of the College Plan that includes these three critical documents. The
cost for all three documents is only $350 and includes one year of the service discussed above providing access to this important information from anywhere.
CALL US AT 816-249- 2122 or E-MAIL JANE at email@example.com or SALLY at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just say that you want to make an appointment (by
phone or in person) to discuss the College Plan.
January 24th, 2017
What to Expect From the First 100 Days of the Trump Presidency
By Valerie Peterson, J.D.
Repeal of the Affordable Care Act
Prior to being elected, Donald Trump published a contract with voters
outlining what he would do during his first 100 days. One promise Trump made that has been getting a lot of attention lately and that could have significant impact on seniors and persons with disabilities is the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
In fact, the first executive order
signed by President Trump following his inauguration addressed the Affordable Care Act. In the order, relevant federal agencies to waive or defer provisions that “impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”
In the explanation in his contract with voters, Trump states he will work with Congress to fully appeal Obamacare and replace it with Health Savings Accounts, the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines and let states manage Medicaid funds. Letting states manage Medicaid funds means either a Medicaid block grant, or per capita spending on Medicaid.
Medicaid Block Grants or Per Capita Caps
The per capita model would not account for changes in the costs per enrollee beyond the growth limit, which would be set below the projected rates of growth under current law. Under a block grant, states would be given a set amount of Medicaid funding based in part on the state’s current Medicaid spending, rather than setting a per enrollee cost.
While the cap could control federal spending on Medicaid and give states additional flexibility, it will also provide states with an incentive to reduce Medicaid payment rates and restrict benefits. Enrollee with high costs could be prevented from qualifying or saddled with high premiums or cost sharing that is unaffordable.
Currently, Medicaid matches what a state pays out for Medicaid benefits. A Medicaid beneficiary does have a share of cost, but it is limited to their income, less certain exclusions (and can vary with the Medicaid program that person is enrolled in). The per capita cap could allow states to charge much higher costs and in effect restrict enrollees from receiving benefits who need it the most.
The Urban Institute, which has analyzed Medicaid block grants and per capita proposals, notes in an article published by Forbes.com
that such policies would reduce states’ authority to make policy decisions over their own programs while threatening benefits that low-income people often need but can’t afford. In addition, block grants would favor states with higher incomes since they spend more on Medicaid and would therefore get more money allotted by way of a larger block grant.
While per capita caps or block grants will save the federal government money, several negative consequences could occur: 1) Millions of current Medicaid enrollees will lose their benefits. 2) Millions of Medicaid applicants will be denied eligibility and will have no way to pay for care or to obtain insurance. 3) States will have increased expenses to make up the difference from funding they would have received from the federal government.
Medicaid block grants are nothing new. They have been proposed several times over the past 20+ years but never implemented. While not likely to be implemented in the first 100 days, this is an issue to watch as alternatives to Obamacare are explored and negotiated by Republican Congressional leaders and President Trump.
Confusion over Repeal of Obamacare
Media reports the last week have focused on what appears to be disparity between what President-elect Trump says about repealing Obamacare and how it will be replaced, and what Republican leaders are saying publicly. A New York Times article
highlighted a recent Congressional Budget Office report that concluded 18 million could lose their health insurance within a year if Obamacare is repealed.
Trump has stated that he is working on a replacement plan. Republican leaders have stated they are working on a replacement plan. No one has published a plan yet, and it is unlikely we will see anything passed within the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency.
The next question then becomes what part of the repeal and replace process will require Congressional approval. This New York Times article
breaks down each promise made in Trump’s contract to voters and designates it as needing congressional approval, may need approval, or does not need approval. While some parts of repealing Obamacare may be done through the budget reconciliation process, a full repeal and replace will require Congressional approval.
One certainty is that the next 100 days and all of 2017 are shaping up to address critical issues affecting seniors, persons with disabilities, and Veterans. Another certainty is that elder law attorneys will become even more critical in the coming months and years as new laws are passed.
Valerie L. Peterson, J.D.
Valerie joined ElderCounsel in January of 2008 and serves as Chief Executive Officer. Prior to joining ElderCounsel, Valerie was a practicing elder law attorney in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami and the owner of Peterson Law Office, P.A. Valerie was a litigator for several years after law school, but decided to focus her practice on elder law after she experienced firsthand the challenges of caring for an elderly loved one.
December 21st, 2016
In these divisive times, please consider the words of President Abraham Lincoln as you celebrate the holidays with family and friends:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America,
in his 1st inaugural address on 04 March 1861.
September 15th, 2016
BEER & BBQ BENEFIT 2016
Beer and BBQ Benefit for domestic abuse awareness this Saturday, September 17, 2016, from 7 – 10 p.m. for which I am proud to be a sponsor. All proceeds from the event go to SafeHome and Rose Brooks Center. I am providing two silent auction items. One is a pair of tickets to see the Kansas City Chiefs v. New Orleans Saints on Oct. 23, 2016, including parking (value: $400), and the other is a will-based estate planning package (value: $1,050).
For more information: http://eepurl.com/caMRh9
For a list of sponsors and auction items: http://artatsuite100.com/beer-bbq-benefit/
It will be a fun event for a good cause, including food, drink, art, and entertainment. Please stop by as my guest.
September 15th, 2016
Where Clinton and Trump Stand on Caregiver and Long-Term Care
What the candidates have said, or not said, on these vital topics: CLICK HERE
Thank you for joining us for this four-part series of blog posts on where presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand on key issues of interest to Americans over 50. Please give me a call at 816-249-2122 if you would like to discuss how you can plan ahead to avoid losing all or most of your assets if long-term care becomes necessary.
September 12th, 2016
Where Clinton and Trump Stand on Retirement Security
They haven't said much, but here's what we do know: CLICK HERE
Look for the final story of this 4-part series this Thursday, ‘Where Clinton and Trump Stand on Caregiver and Long-Term Care' and give me a call at 816-249-2122 if you would like to discuss how you can plan ahead to protect your assets.
September 8th, 2016
Where Trump and Clinton Stand on Health Care and Medicare
Click Here for The candidates' views on these vital issues for boomers and Gen X'ers
Look for Part 3 of this 4-part series next Monday, ‘Where Clinton and Trump Stand on Retirement Security’ and give me a call at 816-249-2122 if you would like to discuss how you can plan ahead for future healthcare costs.
September 5th, 2016
August 10th, 2016
Social Security: Where Clinton and Trump Stand
A head-to-head look at their plans for the retirement program: Click here for full article.
Look for Part 2 of this 4-part series this Thursday, ‘Where Trump and Clinton Stand on Health Care and Medicare’ and give me a call at 816-249-2122 if you would like to discuss how you can plan ahead to avoid losing all or most of your assets to a Medicaid spend down if nursing home care becomes necessary.
Click link above for full article via NYTimes.com
July 27th, 2016
Are Handwritten Intentions Enforceable? Princess Diana Thought So…
Princess Diana of Wales was one of the world’s most loved celebrities – and one of the richest. Her tragic death in 1997 was world news. The majority of her estate, reportedly worth $40 million at the time of her death, was divided between Prince William and Prince Harry in her estate plan.
However, she also wrote a “letter of wishes” that directed her executors to give a number of personal effects to her godchildren. Those executors, her mother and her sister, went to court and had it ruled unenforceable.
Holographic Wills – Sometimes Enforceable, Sometimes Not
Princess Diana’s letter of wishes is similar to what’s known as a “holographic” will in the United States. In its most simple terms, it is a handwritten
document which may or may not have to be signed.
State laws vary on whether holographic wills can be enforced and how they must be prepared. Approximately half of U.S. states allow them and those require the matter to be probated; however, holographic wills are not enforceable in either Kansas or Missouri.
In states where holographic wills are valid, some of the issues which frequently arise concerning holographic wills include:
Validity. Did the decedent write the will? In contested cases, handwriting experts are often used to determine validity.
Undue Influence. Was the decedent unduly influenced to create the will? That’s difficult to prove – or disprove – as they do not have to be witnessed.
Intentions. Does the will accurately describe the decedent’s intentions? Again, without witnesses (creating an actual last will and testament generally requires two), that becomes difficult to answer.
The question becomes – if you believe that no one will contest your holographic will (and it is legal in your state), should you skip the lawyers altogether? The answer is NO.
Don’t Subject Your Wishes to Scrutiny
The whole purpose of creating a document, any
document, which spells out your intentions upon death is to make it enforceable. Although last will and testaments still go through probate, they provide the court with a signed and witnessed document which is likely to reflect your intentions. Holographic wills, in Kansas and Missouri, will not hold up in court and your wishes are not likely to be followed.
The bottom line is that creating a will, a trust, or any other type of estate planning document is easy – when handled by an estate planning attorney. In effect, the process is simple and consists of having a conversation about your intentions, listing assets, and creating a legal document which will carry those intentions out. Sadly, Princess Diana’s godchildren got nothing. Don’t let someone else decide what you did, or did not, intend.
Contact our office at 816-249-2122
and we’ll show you which types of estate planning documents are best for you and your goals
July 13th, 2016
June 30th, 2016
Big Bang Theory Star’s “Ironclad” Prenup Challenged: How Does Yours Compare?
The Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Cuoco is one of the highest paid actresses on television. She earns one million dollars per episode and has a net worth of $44 million. Before she married tennis star Ryan Sweeting in 2013, Cuoco asked him to sign a prenuptial agreement (“prenup”).
After less than two years of marriage, Cuoco filed for divorce. She assumed the prenup would be valid. However, Sweeting alleges that the prenup shouldn’t be enforced and he wants spousal support. So, is The Big Bang Theory star’s prenup ironclad? A better question might be – is any?
Cuoco Was Smart, But…
Cuoco was certainly smart to have Sweeting sign a prenuptial agreement as his net worth was only about two million dollars versus her 44 million. However, while a well-written prenup generally addresses asset division and support issues, they are not always ironclad.
In this case, Sweeting alleges that his circumstances have substantially changed due to numerous sports injuries and an addiction to pain killers which have prevented him from earning a living as a tennis player. So, while he didn’t need support when the prenup was signed, he does now.
3 Ways to Invalidate a Prenup
There are generally three ways to invalidate a prenup, by proving:
This is a legal term of art meaning that, under the circumstances, it would be grossly unfair to enforce the document. To overcome it, Cuoco would likely have to prove that Sweeting was represented by an independent attorney who advised him of the consequences before signing.
Legal contracts can be deemed void when one party was coerced into signing it. In its harshest terms, that equates to being forced to sign something at gunpoint. In this case, it means that either Sweeting wasn’t given enough time to read it or didn’t voluntarily sign it.
Sweeting could also allege that Cuoco lied about her net worth and that, based on her fraudulent activity, the prenup shouldn’t be enforced.
If Cuoco’s attorney did his or her job correctly, which seems to be the case, it’s most likely that she’ll prevail.
Don’t Risk Your Wealth!
Prenuptial agreements, part of a strong estate plan, should always be prepared by experienced attorneys (a different one for each party) who know how to comply with the laws of that particular state and take into account what changes in the relationship might affect the validity of the prenup.
Today, 50% of all first marriages end in divorce; more than 70% of all second marriages do so. It makes sense to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Certainly, don’t risk your wealth and future by failing to have as ironclad a prenup (or “postnup” – an agreement made after marriage) as possible. It’s easier to accomplish than you would think and we can provide you with the tools you need to do just that.
If you are contemplating marriage, please contact our office immediately by email at email@example.com or call us at 816-249-2122 to make sure you're protected.
Celebrities Who Failed to Recognize Unborn Children in Their Wills: A Teachable Lesson
Having an estate plan that protects and provides for your loved ones is not only smart, it’s necessary. Without one, your family, friends, or the charitable organizations you wish to provide for may not receive your gifts.
It’s also important to remember to update
your estate planning documents whenever something changes which would affect your intentions.
Michael Crichton. Crichton was a best-selling author, physician, producer, director, and screenwriter. He was most known for his work in science fiction including books such as Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, The Lost World, and many more.
Sadly, he died of cancer in 2008 leaving behind a grown daughter from a previous marriage as well as his current wife, Sherri Alexander, who was pregnant with his son. As a self-admitted workaholic, Crichton never got around to updating his estate plan to provide for his unborn son.
When he passed, his net worth was approximately $175 million. Sherri Alexander filed a lawsuit against the estate to include her son in the will. However, Crichton's grown daughter, Taylor, opposed the lawsuit and a long and drawn out court battle ensued. A judge ruled that the son would inherit, but it likely cost millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees and much stress before that decision was made.
Heath Ledger. Ledger, an Australian director and actor, was most known for his role as the Joker in Dark Knight. Although only 28-years-old, his estate had a net worth of approximately $16 million. His will left his entire estate to his parents and three sisters. He failed to update his will even when he had a child (Matilda) with Michelle Williams and died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in 2008.
The ensuing family legal battles lasted for over five years. Similar to Crichton’s situation, Ledger’s daughter was
able to inherit – but again, not without spending a lot of money on litigation.
No One Likes to Think About Death, But It’s Necessary
Most people don’t like to think about their own death and dealing with estate planning documents often forces us to do just that. However, as these situations show, it’s an important and necessary task to undertake.
Find out how we can help you
protect your loved ones whenever you’re facing a pregnancy, birth, marriage, divorce, or any of the life changes which can affect your estate by contacting us for a free consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org
or calling 816-249-2122.
June 22nd, 2016
Did Whitney Houston Leave Too Much Money to Bobbi Kristina?
Whitney Houston’s estate was worth approximately $20 million when she died – plenty to meet the needs of her only daughter – Bobbi Kristina. Sadly, only a few years after Houston’s death, Bobbi Kristina died as well.
Although Bobbi Kristina’s previous boyfriend, Nick Gordon, is still a suspect in her murder, many say that having access to so much money at a young age was a contributing factor. Sadly, Houston’s estate planning mistakes are all too common.
Aunt & Grandmother Say Will Did Not Depict Houston’s Intentions
Houston’s aunt and grandmother filed a lawsuit to re-write the will as they say it didn’t accurately depict what Whitney really
wanted for Bobbi-Kristina. They claimed that she was too young to handle so much money.
Although they likely had the best of intentions, probate courts must follow the terms of the actual will or trust documents, not what the person who died might have
Whitney Houston’s will was created in 1993, specifying that a trust would be created after she died for any children she may have (so before Bobbi-Kristina was even born) so long as they were minors. Unfortunately, she never updated her will before she died.
Inheriting Money at a Young Age is Never a Good Idea
Whether this tragedy could have been averted if Bobbi Kristina’s distributions were delayed until she was older is anyone’s guess. The bottom line is that inheriting large sums of money at a young age is generally never a good idea. Although the young beneficiary might be responsible, young people can be easily manipulated by others.
While it’s clear that Houston could have better protected that money with a stronger estate plan, she’s certainly not the only one guilty of not following through. In fact, many of us have the best intentions, but simply don’t make the time to create – and update – proper estate planning documents that can help beneficiaries.
Set Your Beneficiaries Up for Success!
You do have the power to set your young beneficiaries up for success. In most cases, that means creating a trust that allows them access to money over time and can be managed by someone you trust and has their best interests at heart.
We can provide you with the tools you need to protect your loved ones – whatever your situation may be. As Houston’s case shows, ignoring estate planning issues can have tragic consequences. Contact us today at 816-249-2122 or email@example.com
and let’s get started protecting you and those you love.
June 16th, 2016
The Perils of Promises...Marlon Brando’s Story
Legendary Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando left the bulk of his estate (worth approximately $26 million) to his producer and other associates.
Brando created a valid last will and testament. However, he did not include his longtime housekeeper Angela Borlaza – who later sued alleging that Brando promised that she would inherit a home from him when he died.
A Promise Is A Promise…
While a promise is a promise, not all promises are legally equal. In the courtroom, an oral promise is usually not treated the same as a written promise. In this case, Brando either never promised Borlaza anything or promised to give her the home, but never got around to putting it in his will (or in a written contract). Borlaza claimed a promise about a home was made and sued his estate for $627,000.
However, the alleged promise was oral. The law generally favors written evidence when it comes to estate planning matters, so the court examined only what was written in Brando’s will on the assumption that he made all of his wishes known. Borlaza eventually settled the matter for $125,000, but she was lucky to get even that.
Oral promises about inheritances are typically not legally valid and usually only introduce confusion and uncertainty about formal estate planning documents (such as a will or trust). Courts can – and reasonably must – rely upon the documents, like a will, when probating an estate. Although you might be trying to save money or time by promising inheritances to family members, friends, or others, but you aren’t doing anyone a favor. Luckily, there is a way to make your promises and wishes legally valid.
Put It in Writing - The Key to Making Promises Work
Make sure that your loved ones receive everything you promised them by putting your wishes in writing through a last will and testament, a trust, or other estate planning tool. Don’t rest on your laurels. It is imperative to update your estate planning documents when any significant or life changing events occur such as:
● a new oral promise you made to someone
● circumstance changes (change in health, wealth, or state of residence)
● income changes
Need help putting your wishes in writing? You’re in the right place. Contact our office today and let us help you decide what type of estate plan might work best for your situation. It’s easier than you think and will give you the peace of mind that your loved ones aren’t forgotten. www.jlwlawfirm.com
Today, June 15, 2016 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
I am grateful for all of you who provide care and support for those who have provided the same for you or others when they were able to do so.
Please take a moment to check on those you love and care about, wherever they may be.
June 8th, 2016
Don’t Burden Your Family! 4 Essential Purposes of a Trust...
As we learn from Prince’s mistakes, there are also lessons to be learned from other celebrities’ estate planning horror stories:
Michael Jackson’s Estate Pulled into Seemingly Endless Probate Court Battles
Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop,” had always been a controversial superstar. Over the years, he became the father of three children, Prince Michael Jackson II, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, and Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr.
While Jackson created a trust to care for his children and other family and friends, he never actually funded it. The result? Embarrassing and seemingly endless probate court battles between family members, the executors, and the IRS.
4 Essential Purposes of a Trust
A trust is a fiduciary arrangement which allows a third party (known as a trustee) to hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. There are four primary benefits of trusts:
Avoiding probate. Funded trusts are not subject to probate. However, unfunded or underfunded trusts, just like wills, generally must go through probate.
Maintaining privacy. Probate is a matter of public record. However, since trusts aren’t subject to probate, privacy is maintained.
Mitigating the chance of litigation. Since trusts are not subject to the probate process, they are not a matter of public record. Therefore, fewer people know estate plan details – mitigating the chance of litigation.
Providing asset protection. Assets passed to loved ones in trust can be drafted to provide legal protection so assets cannot be easily seized by predators and creditors.
While these are arguably the most essential purposes, trusts can also affect what you pay in estate taxes as well.
Sadly, Jackson could not take advantage of any of these benefits. Although he created a “pour-over” will, which was intended to put his assets into a trust after his death, the “pour-over” will, like any other will, still had to be probated.
The probate, along with naming his attorney and a music executive as his executors (instead of family members), fueled a fire that could have been avoided with more mindful planning. Given the size of Jackson’s estate, it’s no surprise that everyone wanted a piece of the pie.
Don’t Burden Your Family!
Losing a loved one is difficult enough without having to endure legal battles afterward. In Jackson’s situation, properly retitling his assets into his trust would have reduced litigation and legal fees, and helped provide privacy for his survivors. His situation, although it deals with hundreds of millions of dollars, applies to anyone who has assets worth protecting. In other words, it likely applies to everyone!
There are many types of trusts and estate planning tools available to ensure that you don’t burden your family after your death. We’ll show you how to best provide for and protect your loved ones by creating the type of estate plan which is tailored to fit your needs.