An Estate Plan Directs Assets According to Your Wishes

Anyone who has any assets they want distributed should have an estate plan, regardless of the size of their estate. Having a will and an estate plan created by an experienced estate planning attorney is the easiest place to start, says the Observer-Reporter in the article “Set up an estate plan so your assets go where you want.” Without a will, the state will decide what happens to your assets, and it may not be what you wanted.

If your will was done more than four years ago and was never updated, it may lead to some unwanted results. If people you named as beneficiaries or executors have died, or if there were divorces in your family, these are examples of changes that should be addressed in the estate plan.

Many people don’t know that insurance policies, annuities, 401(k), or IRA accounts that have a designated beneficiary are going to the designated beneficiary, regardless of what is in the will. If the will says everything in the estate should be divided equally between children, but one child was named the beneficiary on the life insurance policy, then only the named child will inherit the insurance policy.

Another part of an estate plan that is needed to ensure that your wishes are followed, is a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney. The financial power of attorney gives the person you name the legal ability to make financial decisions for you, if you are incapacitated. The health care power of attorney, similarly, gives the person you name the power to make health care decisions for you, if you cannot do so for yourself. A living will is another part of planning for incapacity that is a part of a comprehensive estate plan. The living will lets your wishes for end of life care be known to others.

Assets that pass to heirs through beneficiary designations do not go through the probate process. However, assets distributed through your will do so. Probate administration of an estate takes some time to complete, depending upon where you live. In some states, probate is more involved and time consuming than in others.

Another reason why people like to avoid probate is that documents, including your will, are filed with the court and become part of the public record. That’s why many people who lose a family member find themselves receiving direct mail and phone calls about buying insurance policy or selling their home.

There are ways to minimize the number of assets that pass through probate, which your estate planning attorney will be able to explain. Trusts are used for this purpose. There are a variety of trusts that can be used, depending upon your circumstances. Some are used to protect inheritances, if a person has an opiate addiction or cannot manage her own affairs. Others are used, so individuals with special needs do not receive inheritances that would make them ineligible for government benefits.

An experienced estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances.

Reference: Observer-Reporter (April 19, 2019) “Set up an estate plan so your assets go where you want”

 

Property Transfers and Gift Taxes: Estate Planning Basics

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

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

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

Let’s say this person paid $50,000 for the family home, and it’s now worth $100,000. If you give the home to a family member, it’s as if she paid $50,000 for it, not $100,000. There may be tax consequences when she goes to sell it, but that’s in the distant future.

It’s different if the home is inherited. In that case, if the house was valued at $100,000 on the date that the owner died, the heir’s cost basis would be $100,000. However, if the heir sold the property on the exact same day (this is an unlikely scenario), there would be no tax owed on the sale for the heir.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Do Singles Need These Two Estate Planning Tools?

Morningstar’s article, “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider” explains that a living will or advance medical directive, are legal documents that detail your wishes for life-sustaining treatment. They are documents that you sign when you are of sound mind and say you want to be removed from life supporting measures, if you become terminally ill and incapacitated.

If you’re on life support with no chance of getting better, you’d choose to have your family avoid the expense and stress of keeping you alive artificially.

Like a living will, a durable power of attorney for healthcare is a legal document that names an agent to make healthcare decisions for you, if you are unable to make them yourself.

A durable power of attorney for healthcare can provide your instructions in circumstances in which you’re not necessarily terminally ill, but you are incapacitated.

When selecting an agent, find a person you trust enough to act on your behalf when you’re unable. Let this person know exactly how you feel about blood transfusions, organ transplants, disclosure of your medical information and other sensitive topics that may arise, if you’re incapacitated.

A durable power of attorney eliminates any confusion, especially if this person is someone other than your spouse. Your doctors will know exactly who the decision-maker is among your relatives and friends.

These two documents aren’t all that comprise a fully comprehensive estate plan. Singles should regularly make certain that the beneficiary designations on their checking and retirement accounts are up to date.

You should also consider your life insurance needs, especially if you have children and/or a mortgage.

It is also important to understand that a living will doesn’t address the issues of a will. A will ensures that your property is distributed after your death, in accordance with your wishes. Ask for help from an experienced estate planning attorney.

These two documents—a living will and a durable power of attorney—can help ensure that in a healthcare emergency, any medical and financial decisions made on your behalf are in accordance with what you really want. Speak with to an estate planning attorney in your state to get definitive answers to your questions.

Reference: Morningstar (April 23, 2019) “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider”

 

What Are the Six Most Frequent Estate Planning Mistakes?

it is a grim topic, but it is an important one. Without a legal will in place, your loved ones may spend years stuck in court proceedings and spend a lot in legal fees to settle your estate.

The San Diego Tribune writes in its recent article, 6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid, that without a plan, everything is more stressful and expensive. Let’s look at the top six estate planning mistakes that people need to avoid:

No Plan. Regardless of your age or financial status, it’s critical to have a basic estate plan. This includes crafting powers of attorney for both healthcare and finances and a living will.

No Discussion. Once you create your plan, tell your family. Those you’ve named to take care of you, need to know what you’ve decided and where to find your plan.

Focusing Only on Taxes. Estate planning can be much more than just about tax avoidance. There are many other reasons to create an estate plan that have nothing to do with taxes, like charitable giving, special needs planning for a family member, succession planning in the event of incapacity and planning for children of a prior marriage, to name just a few.

Leaving Assets Directly to Children. If you leave assets directly to your children or grandchildren under age 18, it can cause unintended custodian or guardianship issues. Minors can’t own legal property, so a guardian will be appointed by the court to manage the property for them, until they reach age 18. If you don’t name a guardian, the court will appoint one for you and that person may have very different ideas about how the account should be managed and invested.

Making Mistakes with Ownership and Property Titles. With many blended families, you may want to preserve assets from an inheritance as your own separate property or from a prior marriage for your children. There are many tax consequences and control issues in blended families about which you may not be aware.

Messing Up Your Trust. Many people don’t properly fund or update their trusts. An unfunded trust doesn’t do anyone any good. Assets that aren’t titled in the name of the trust don’t avoid probate.

Finally, be sure to review your estate plan regularly, and make an appointment with a local, experienced estate planning attorney  as your circumstances change.

Reference: San Diego Tribune (April 18, 2019) “6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid”

 

What Are the Five “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents?

WTHR 13’s recent article, “The 5 legal documents every adult should have” lists the five key documents involved in estate planning.

  1. General Durable Power of Attorney. This document states who you want to make decisions, if you’re unable to do so for yourself. Without it, your family may have to petition the courts to become your legal guardian, which can be time consuming and expensive. A power of attorney allows the person whom you select, to pay your mortgage or rent and your bills.
  2. Health Care Power of Attorney. This document plans for the situation, if you are unable to make your own health care decisions. You name someone you trust, like family members or friends, to do this on your behalf.
  3. Will. This says that when you pass away, here’s what I want to happen. A will states who will get your assets after your death. If you don’t have a valid will in place, the state laws of intestacy will govern what will happen to your estate—which may not be what you want.
  4. Living Will. This is the document in which you state your instructions for end-of-life care, such as life support. This document is used to make certain that your family and physicians know what you want your end-of-life care to be. A living will is much different than a will.
  5. Revocable Living Trust. This document can be important, if you’re a parent with young children and would like your assets passed down properly to your children, if you die. Typically, if children are under 18 or 21, they’re legally minors and can’t receive assets. A trust can help coordinate their receiving your property.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you with the creation of these documents, while creating an overall plan so that your wishes are followed, your legacy is protected and your family is secure.

Reference: WTHR 13 (April 17, 2019) “The 5 legal documents every adult should have”

 

How Should My Home be Titled with a Loved One?

Whether you’re single, coupled up, or married, deciding how to hold title to your family home is one of the most critical decisions home buyers make. The effects of that decision may not be apparent for years, says The Washington Post in the recent article, “What you need to know about holding title to a home with a loved one.”

There are three primary ways to title property between spouses. Joint tenancy is the least common and typically must include the language “with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common.” Spouses typically acquire title as “tenants by the entireties,” which only applies to spouses in a limited number of states.

When a couple acquires a home before marriage, in some states, a premarital joint tenancy automatically becomes tenants by the entireties, when they marry. However, the drawback to joint tenancy, is that it’s possible for one spouse’s interest to be alienated by deed or by a judgment lien or bankruptcy. In some states, a joint tenancy can be partitioned, so that the ownership can be separated.

A surviving spouse doesn’t have to do anything upon the death of a spouse, depending on how they held title to their home. Ask your estate planning attorney about any changes to the title of the property, to be certain that title is set up this way.

There are many ways married couples or those in a civil union can hold title to a home. Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship again gives each owner the ability to own the entirety of the home upon the death of the co-owner. This transfer is automatic and doesn’t require any paperwork or legal processing.

Tenancy by the entireties gives the couple the same survivorship rights as a joint tenancy deed, but it also affords the couple certain protections against some creditors. It provides that debts entered into by one of the spouses, shouldn’t cause the loss of the home.

The third form of ownership is to hold title as tenants in common. Here, each owner has a specific percentage ownership interest in the home. When a co-owner dies, that person’s share goes to the person designated in the will or by the laws in the state where the property’s located.

In addition to these three ways to hold title, there are also various estate planning trusts that can be used. Ask your estate planning attorney about what’s best for your specific situation.

Reference: The Washington Post (April 15, 2019) “What you need to know about holding title to a home with a loved one”

 

Kids Going to the Mom and Dad ATM One Time Too Many?

Parenting is supposed to be a process of teaching children how to be self-sufficient. However, it’s not always easy to go from being dependent on parents to being independent. If you think you’re still doing too much, says Newsday, you need to ask “Good to Know: Are your grown-up children taking advantage of you?”

Plenty of parents don’t know what to do when they are asked too many times for too many financial favors. They may feel pressured to agree, worried that they may see their grandchildren or their children less, if they say no. That’s a bad reason for generosity. If the parent is asked to co-sign for a large purchase, like a home or a car, they need to put the brakes on and discuss this thoroughly with their child. It may also be a good idea to speak with an estate planning attorney, for an objective viewpoint.

There needs to be recognition of the child’s creditworthiness. Have they borrowed money from their parents or other family members and failed to pay it back completely, or made only partial payments, and only after being reminded repeatedly? Don’t expect behavior to change. Parents facing this example also need to discuss this between themselves. They should only “lend” money that they can afford to lose.

If the child has been turned down for credit through regular financial channels and the bank of Mom and Dad is the only option, find out why. Ask them for a credit report and be transparent about your concerns. Can you afford to pick up the mortgage payments, if the child fails to make them? What about car loan payments?

Taking advantage of parents can extend past money. Some families welcome their grandchildren with open arms for unlimited times. However, if you find yourself babysitting on weekends and several week nights during the week, it’s time for a discussion. For one family, whose son was interested in spending time with a new fiancé more than with his two toddlers, the situation went on for nearly a year, until the parents gathered the courage to speak up.

They added up all the time they were spending each week taking care of the children. It turned out that they were watching the children for fifteen hours or more each week. This was discussed calmly. They then made it clear that they were happy to continue caring for the children, but for a far more reasonable period of time.

If you feel that your children are taking advantage of you, you’ll need to have a discussion in a calm and reasonable manner. If there are financial matters that are spinning out of control, speak with your estate planning attorney about how to create a plan to stop the flow of money. Elder financial abuse sometimes begins as a “favor.” However, it can escalate, if it is allowed to grow unchecked.

Reference: Newsday (April 14, 2019) “Good to Know: Are your grown-up children taking advantage of you?”

 

Here’s Why You Need a Health Care Directive

Advance health care planning comes into play, if a person becomes incapacitated, whether that status is permanent or temporary. This is part of a comprehensive estate plan, and why you’ll want to take care of this before something occurs. That’s the recommendation from the McPherson Sentinel article “Advance health care directives important to all adults.”

Documenting your wishes about future health care lets a cognitively healthy person express their wishes with a clear perspective. Unfortunately, only one in four American adults has their advance health care directive in place. Many wait to begin the planning process, until they are in their 50s or 60s. The problem is, life doesn’t have a plan. At any time in life, tragedy can strike. A serious illness or an accident can occur, and leave the family wondering what the person would have wanted.

The most common advance directives including a durable power of attorney for health care, living will, and pre-hospital do not resuscitate directive, known also as a “DNR.”

The durable power of attorney for health care allows you to name a person to make medical decisions for you, in the event you cannot. They are also referred to as a “medical power of attorney” or “health care agent.”

This is different than a durable power of attorney, which gives a person the right to act as another person’s agent and conduct all business and financial matters on their behalf.

It’s very important that the people you name to fulfill these roles are told that they have been named. They need to fully understand what your wishes are, what kinds of treatments are and are not acceptable for you, your preferences for doctors and where you would like the treatment to take place.

If you live in a small rural town that does not have specialists, and there is a hospital nearby that offers excellent care, your durable power of attorney for health care can include your wish to be taken to the hospital to receive more specialized care.

The person selected will need to be trustworthy and have the ability and willingness to communicate your wishes, even if family members don’t agree with your choices. They will need to follow your wishes, even if they are not the same as their own.

Keep family dynamics in mind. If a younger sibling is selected to be your health care agent and they have been dominated throughout their life by an older sibling, will your wishes be honored, or will they become the subject of an extended argument?

A living will is a document that details the type of care you want to receive at the end of life. It explains your wishes about accepting life-sustaining procedures, like being placed on a ventilator, receiving artificial nutrition and hydration, if at least two physicians deem that your condition would otherwise be terminal.

These documents should be prepared for you as part of your overall estate plan, with the guidance of an estate planning attorney. Be aware that the laws vary from state to state, so you’ll want to work with an attorney who knows your state’s laws. If you relocate to another state, you will need to have your estate plan updated to ensure that it is still valid.

Finally, make sure to tell several people about these documents, and have the health care documents located in a place, where they can be easily found in an emergency. If you keep them in a bank safe deposit box, it is unlikely that they will be found in a time of crisis.

Reference: McPherson Sentinel (April 17, 2019) “Advance health care directives important to all adults”

 

What’s Happening with Tom Petty’s Estate?

Rocker Tom Petty’s widow, Dana York Petty, planned to include unreleased tracks from her late husband’s celebrated 1994 solo album as part of a 25th anniversary edition box set.

However, Tom’s daughters Adria and Annakim, his children from a previous marriage, have blocked the release, according to iHeartRadio’s article, “Tom Petty’s Widow, Daughters Battling Over His Estate.”

Dana says the daughters are interfering with her ability to manage Tom’s legacy. She’s reportedly requested that a judge name a day-to-day manager for the estate.

Adria argues that she and her sister were promised an equal share of control in their father’s estate, according to his will. She says her father’s “artistic property” was supposed to be placed into a separate company to be jointly administered by the three women. However, Dana disagrees.

Annakim seems to reference the battle in a recent Instagram post. She displayed a photo of her father with the caption, “We don’t sell out. No Vampires 2019.”

A subsequent reply in the comments section mentions Petty’s will.

Wildflowers was initially designed to be a double album, with Petty completing more than 25 songs in the initial sessions. However, he was convinced by his record label to take some some songs off for the final version.

Throughout the years, a few of the extra songs were released on various collections. However, Tom never relinquished his idea of releasing the set as a double LP.

Petty was reportedly planning a Wildflowers tour, before his death in October of 2017, to showcase all the leftover material.

Perhaps it’s time for  you to do some estate planning as well. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.

Reference: iHeartRadio (April 3, 2019) “Tom Petty’s Widow, Daughters Battling Over His Estate”

Suggested Key Terms: Will Contest, Estate, Artistic Property,

Social Media Helps to Catch Social Security Disability Fraud

The Social Security Administration (SSA) used to have investigators try to catch people in the act of performing activities, like bouncing on a trampoline, that prove they were not disabled and their applications for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) were fraudulent. Having to document this behavior by being physically present and snapping photographs as evidence, required many hours of following people around and running stake-out operations.

Some people now unwittingly hand the investigators all the proof they need, through what the disability benefits applicants post on Facebook and other platforms online. Here are some of the ways that social media helps to catch Social Security disability fraud, and some of the objections to this use of online content.

Appropriate Use of Social Media Postings to Deny Disability Claims

Let’s say that someone files an application for SSDI benefits, claiming that she cannot leave the house because of her illness or impairment. She then posts photographs online of herself going shopping, meeting friends for lunch or coffee and attending events around town.

The investigator can use those postings to look further into the claim that she is unable to leave her house. The investigator should not automatically deny the disability benefits, because the photographs might be from some time in the past before the applicant became ill or injured.

Security Settings Do Not Protect You

Most experts say that security settings on social media are a joke, because they do not prevent others from seeing what you post. Once you post something online, you lose control over the item, whether you posted words or a photograph. Any of the people on your friends list can repost or share your posting, and others can share, and so on. That is how online content “goes viral.” If there is one person on the planet whom you would not want to see or read something, do not post it online.

Objections to the Use of Social Media Postings to Evaluate Disability Claims

Unless the situation involves an outrageous fraud, some members of the disability communities think it is unfair for the SSA to use social media postings, when evaluating applications for SSDI benefits. For example:

  • Many people want to create a better-than-reality image of their lives online, only posting content that makes them look good. They might avoid posting photographs and comments that might cause their peers to view them unfavorably.
  • It is discriminatory to assume that all people with disabilities are shut-ins, who do not participate in social activities or in the community.
  • Adding another facet – the review of social media postings – to the already long process of evaluating applications for SSDI benefits, will further delay the approval of legitimate petitions for benefits.
  • The SSI evaluators have many methods for rooting out fraud, like reviewing the applicant’s medical records and sending the person to a medical expert of the SSA’s choosing.

The issue of using social media postings when processing applications for SSDI benefits, raises many questions about the individual’s right to privacy, whether the review of online postings constitutes spying, and whether it is fair for people to get disability benefits if they can, for example, run marathons.

It is a good idea to talk with an elder law attorney near you to find out how your state’s regulations might differ from the general law of this article.

References:

AARP “Social Security May Step Up Facebook, Instagram Checks in Disability Fraud Probes.” (accessed April 11, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/retirement/social-security/info-2019/ssa-social-media-disability-fraud.html