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Law Office of Michael D. DellaMonaca

Have a Plan for Life

Why is an Advance Directive so Important with Dementia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference: Roanoke Times (June 17, 2019) “What to do in absence of advance directive”

 

What Are the Basics About Trusts?

Forbes’s recent article, “A Beginner’s Guide To Reading A Trust,” says that as much as attorneys have tried to simplify documents, there is some legalese that is still hanging around. Let’s look at a few tips in reviewing your trust.

First, familiarize yourself with the terms. There are basic terms of the trust that you’ll need to know. Most of this can be found on its first page, such as the person who created the trust. He or she is frequently referred to as the donor, grantor or settlor. It is also necessary to identify the trustee, who will hold the trust assets and administer them for the benefit of the beneficiaries and any successor trustees.

You should next see who the beneficiaries are and then look at the important provisions. See if the trustee is required to distribute the assets all at once to a specific beneficiary, or if she can give the money out in installments over time.

It is also important to determine if the distributions are completely left to the discretion of the trustee, so the beneficiary doesn’t have a right to withdraw the trust assets.  See if the trustee can distribute both income and principal.

The next step is to see when the trust ends. Trusts will end at the death of a beneficiary.

Other important provisions include whether the beneficiaries can remove and replace a trustee, if the trustee must provide the beneficiaries with accountings and whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable. If the trust is revocable and you’re the donor, you can change it.

If the trust is irrevocable, you won’t be able to make any changes. If your uncle was the donor and he passed away, the trust is most likely now irrevocable.

In addition, you should review the boilerplate language, as well as the tax provisions.

Talk to an estate planning attorney about any questions you may have and to help you interpret the trust terms.

Reference: Forbes (June 17, 2019) “A Beginner’s Guide To Reading A Trust”

 

Why Would I Need to Revise My Will?

OK, great!! You’ve created your will! Now you can it stow away and check off a very important item on your to-do list. Well, not entirely.

Thrive Global’s recent article, “7 Reasons Why You Need to Review your Will Right Now,” says it’s extremely important that you regularly update your will to avoid any potential confusion and extra stress for your family at a very emotional time. As circumstances change, you need to have your will reflect changes in your life. As time passes and your situation changes, your will may become invalid, obsolete or even create added confusion, when the time comes for your will to be administered.

New people in your life. If you do have more children after you’ve created your will, review your estate plan to make certain that the wording is still correct. You may also marry or re-marry, and grandchildren may be born that you want to include. Make a formal update to your estate plan to include the new people who play an important part in your life and to remove those with whom you lose touch.

A beneficiary or other person dies. If a person you had designated as a beneficiary or executor of your will has died, you must make a change or it could result in confusion, when the time comes for your estate to be distributed. You need to update your will, if an individual named in your estate passes away before you.

Divorce. If your will was created prior to a divorce, and you want to remove your ex from your estate plan, talk to an estate planning attorney about the changes you need to make.

Your spouse dies. Wills should be written in such a way as to always have a backup plan in place. For example, if your husband or wife dies before you, their portion of your estate might go to another family member or another named individual. If this happens, you may want to redistribute your assets to other people.

A child becomes an adult. When a child turns 18 and comes of age, she is no longer a dependent.  Therefore, you may need to update your will in any areas that provided additional funds for any dependents.

You experience a change in your financial situation. This is a great opportunity to update your will to protect your new financial situation.

You change your mind. It’s your will, and you can change your mind whenever you like.

To prepare a correct will, you need to contact a reputable, licensed, estate planning attorney. 

Reference: Thrive Global (June 17, 2019) “7 Reasons Why You Need to Review your Will Right Now”

 

What Debts Must Be Paid Before and After Probate?

Everything that must be addressed in settling an estate becomes more complicated, when there is no will and no estate planning has taken place before the person dies. Debts are a particular area of concern for the estate and the executor. What has to be paid, and who gets paid first? These are explained in the article “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate” from The Balance.

Probate is the process of gaining court approval of the estate and paying off final bills and expenses, before property can be transferred to beneficiaries. Dealing with the debts of a deceased person can be started, before probate officially begins.

Start by making a list of all of the decedent’s liabilities and look for the following bills or statements:

  • Mortgages
  • Reverse mortgages
  • Home equity loans
  • Lines of credit
  • Condo fees
  • Property taxes
  • Federal and state income taxes
  • Car and boat loans
  • Personal loans
  • Loans against life insurance policies
  • Loans against retirement accounts
  • Credit card bills
  • Utility bills
  • Cell phone bills

Next, divide those items into two categories: those that will be ongoing during probate—consider them administrative expenses—and those that can be paid off after the probate estate is opened. These are considered “final bills.” Administrative bills include things like mortgages, condo fees, property taxes and utility bills. They must be kept current. Final bills include income taxes, personal loans, credit card bills, cell phone bills and loans against retirement accounts and/or life insurance policies.

The executors and heirs should not pay any bills out of their own pockets. The executor deals with all of these liabilities in the process of settling the estate.

For some of the liabilities, heirs may have a decision to make about whether to keep the assets with loans. If the beneficiary wants to keep the house or a car, they may, but they have to keep paying down the debt. Otherwise, these payments should be made only by the estate.

The executor decides what bills to pay and which assets should be liquidated to pay final bills.

A far better plan for your beneficiaries, is to create a comprehensive estate plan that includes a will that details how you want your assets distributed and addresses what your wishes are. If you want to leave a house to a loved one, your estate planning attorney will be able to explain how to make that happen, while minimizing taxes on your estate.

Reference: The Balance (March 21, 2019) “Dealing with Debts and Mortgages in Probate”

 

Why We All Need to Have an Estate Plan

Putting off estate planning is never a good idea. Life happens, and before you know it, “someday” arrives. Having an estate plan is advisable for everyone, says the South Florida Reporter in the article “Why Estate Planning is so Important.” It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor—you need an estate plan. People with families who depend upon them, as well as singles who don’t, need an estate plan.

What exactly does estate planning mean? Estate planning is planning for the disposition of your assets, when you have died. It’s also done to protect you and your family, in the event you become incapacitated and cannot convey your wishes to others. It protects your family from complications, unnecessary costs and delays about distributing your estate.

Having an estate plan means that you have taken the time to plan out what you want to happen to your property and how you want to take care of your family when you are gone. For those who have young children, your last will and testament is the document used to name the person who will raise your children. It also lets you appoint a separate person (although it can be the same person) who will look after your finances, with regard to your children.

Without a will, a court will decide what should happen to your children and your property. The court must follow the laws of your state, which may not be what you had in mind. Let’s say you have a brother who lives far away and from whom you are estranged. If you don’t have a will and he is your legal next-of-kin, in some states he will inherit everything you own. It’s far better to have a will.

Estate planning also includes tax planning. Having an estate plan that is created by an experienced estate planning attorney with knowledge of tax planning will allow you to minimize your tax liability and make sure more of your assets are passed to the next generation, than are passed to the government.

Having an estate plans gives you the opportunity to take a long look at your life and your legacy. How do you want to be remembered? Do you want to leave behind part of your estate to a charity, a school or a healthcare facility that has been important to you or another family member? Planning for charitable giving is also part of an estate plan. Some people give because they are seeking tax benefits, but many are generous because they are creating a legacy.

Your estate plan can include a letter to your heirs explaining why you have made the decisions you have about your possessions and assets. This kind of letter is not a legally enforceable document. However, if there is a dispute about your will, it can be used to support your intentions.

Note that even the best estate plan needs to be updated every few years. Tax laws have changed with the new federal tax laws that were adopted in 2017. If your estate plan has not been reviewed by your estate planning attorney since 2017, it’s time for a review.

Reference: South Florida Reporter (June 12, 2019) “Why Estate Planning is so Important.”

 

How Will Changes in the Law Impact my Estate Plan?

Wealth Advisor recently published an article—“Tune-Up Your Estate Plan in Light of Changing Conditions”—that asks if your estate plan is still appropriate, in light of several changes in the law.

The federal estate tax gift and estate tax exemption amount is now $11.4 million, indexed for inflation, which is an all-time high. A married couple can transfer twice that amount to children or others, or $22.8 million, without any federal gift and estate tax. The federal exemption amount is also now “portable” between spouses. It means that the first spouse to die, can transfer any unused exemption to the surviving spouse, without the need of a “credit shelter trust.”

Note that the enhanced federal exemption amount is scheduled to “sunset” in 2026, returning back down to $5.6 million (indexed for inflation).

As far as state law changes, the New York estate tax exemption amount is $5.74 million. However, that exemption isn’t portable. The estate tax exemption is also phased out, if your taxable estate is 5% more than that amount. For a New York taxable estate of about $6 million, there’s no exemption and the New York estate tax is about $500,000. The New York estate tax on a $10 million taxable estate is more than $1 million. Since New York has no gift tax, lifetime gifts don’t decrease the estate tax exemption for state tax purposes. However, gifts made within three years of death, would be clawed back under a pending bill.

In New Jersey, they’ve repealed the estate tax but kept the inheritance tax. Connecticut raised its estate and gift tax exemption amount. In the state of Illinois, the estate tax exemption amount is only $4 million and isn’t portable. This makes flexibility in your estate plan very desirable. For residents in the Land of Lincoln (that’s Illinois), the estate tax savings are less dramatic, since the exemption is smaller than in New York, but the potential savings through proper planning are still major.

Another consideration to note includes the fact that surrogate’s courts and probate courts—which have always moved at a snail’s pace—have become even slower.

Some of these changes may impact your current estate plan. You may want to take advantage of the enhanced federal exemption amount, before it goes away.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to see how you can shelter your savings from a state estate tax, if you are married and live in a state with an estate tax like New York, Connecticut, or Illinois. This could save you a lot of money that you can then pass on to your heirs.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 17, 2019) “Tune-Up Your Estate Plan in Light of Changing Conditions”

 

Business Owners Need Estate Plan and a Succession Plan

Business owners get so caught up in working in their business, that they don’t take the time to consider their future—and that of the business—when sometime in the future they’ll want to retire. Many business owners insist they’ll never retire, but that time does eventually come. The question The Gardner News article asks of business owners is this: “Do you have a business succession strategy?”

It takes a very long time to create a succession plan that works. Therefore, planning for such a plan should begin long before retirement is on the horizon. That’s because there are as many different ways to map out a succession plan, as there are types of business. A business owner could sell the business to a family member, an outsider, a key employee or to all the employees. The plan could be implemented while the business owner is still alive and well and working, or it could be set up to take effect, only after the owner passes.

The decision of how to handle a succession plan needs to be made with a number of issues in mind: family dynamics and interest in the business (or lack of interest), the nature of the business, the success of the business and the owner’s overall financial situation.

Here are a few of the more popular strategies:

Selling the business outright. There are business owners who don’t need the money and feel that no one else will care as much as they do about their business. Therefore, they sell it. There needs to be a lot of planning to minimize tax liability, when this is the choice.

Using a buy-sell arrangement to transfer the business. This can be structured in whatever way works best for both parties. It allows a slower transition to new ownership. Some families use the proceeds of a life insurance policy to fund the buy-sell agreement, so family owners could use the death benefit to buy the owner’s stake.

Buying a private annuity. This permits the owner to transfer the business to family members, or someone else, who then makes payments to the owner for the rest of their life, or maybe their life and another person, like a surviving spouse. It has the potential to provide a lifetime stream of income and removes assets from the owner’s estate, without triggering gift or estate taxes.

The plan for succession needs to align with the business owner’s estate plan. This is something that many estate planning attorneys who work with business owners have experience with. They can help facilitate the succession planning process. Talk with your estate planning attorney when you have your regular meeting to review your estate plan about what the future holds for your business.

Reference: The Gardener News (June 4, 2019) “Do you have a business succession strategy?”

 

Think of Estate Planning as Stewardship for the Future

Despite our love of planning, the one thing we often do not plan for, is the one thing that we can be certain of. Our own passing is not something pleasant, but it is definite. Estate planning is seen as an unpleasant or even dreaded task, says The Message in the article “Estate planning is stewardship.” However, think of estate planning as a message to the future and stewardship of your life’s work.

Some people think that if they make plans for their estate, their lives will end. They acknowledge that this doesn’t make sense, but still they feel that way. Others take a more cavalier approach and say that “someone else will have to deal with that mess when I’m gone.”

However, we should plan for the future, if only to ensure that our children and grandchildren, if we have them, or friends and loved ones, have an easier time of it when we pass away.

A thought-out estate plan is a gift to those we love.

Start by considering the people who are most important to you. This should include anyone in your care during your lifetime, and for whom you wish to provide care after your death. That may be your children, spouse, grandchildren, parents, nieces and nephews, as well as those you wish to take care of with either a monetary gift or a personal item that has meaning for you.

This is also the time to consider whether you’d like to leave some of your assets to a house of worship or other charity that has meaning to you. It might be an animal shelter, community center, or any place that you have a connection to. Charitable giving can also be a part of your legacy.

Your assets need to be listed in a careful inventory. It is important to include bank and investment accounts, your home, a second home or any rental property, cars, boats, jewelry, firearms and anything of significance. You may want to speak with your heirs to learn whether there are any of your personal possessions that have great meaning to them and figure out to whom you want to leave these items. Some of these items have more sentimental than market value, but they are equally important to address in an estate plan.

There are other assets to address: life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs and other retirement plans, along with pension accounts. Note that these assets likely have a beneficiary designation and they are not distributed by your will. Whoever the beneficiary is listed on these documents will receive these assets upon your death, regardless of what your will says.

If you have not reviewed these beneficiary designations in more than three years, it would be wise to review them. The IRA that you opened at your first job some thirty years ago may have designated someone you may not even know now! Once you pass, there will be no way to change any of these beneficiaries.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create your last will and testament. For most people, a simple will can be used to transfer assets to heirs.

Many people express concern about the cost of estate planning. Remember that there are important and long-lasting decisions included in your estate plan, so it is worth the time, energy and money to make sure these plans are created properly.

Compare the cost of an estate plan to the cost of buying tires for a car. Tires are a cost of owning a car, but it’s better to get a good set of tires and pay the price up front, than it is to buy an inexpensive set and find out they don’t hold the road in a bad situation. It’s a good analogy for estate planning.

Reference: The Message (June 14, 2019) “Estate planning is stewardship.”

 

What Do I Need to Know About Trusts?

A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that lets a third party (the “trustee”) hold assets on the behalf of a beneficiary. Trusts can be drafted in a variety of ways and can specify exactly how and when the assets pass to the beneficiaries.

Because trusts usually avoid probate, the beneficiaries can get access to these assets more quickly than they might if the assets were transferred using a will. If it’s an irrevocable trust, it may not be considered part of the taxable estate, which means there will be fewer taxes due at your death.

FedWeek’s recent article, “The Basics of Trusts,” explains some of the benefits of having a trust in your estate plan. Trusts can offer the following:

  • Protection for possible incompetency. You can form a trust and transfer your assets into it. You can be the trustee, and you’ll have control of the trust assets and keep the income. A successor trustee will assume control, if you’re incapacitated.
  • Avoiding probate. The assets held in trust avoid probate, which can be expensive and time-consuming. In the trust documents, you can direct the trust and provide how the trust assets will be distributed at your death.
  • Protection for heirs. After death, a trustee can keep trust assets from being spent all at once or lost in a divorce, with specific instructions in the trust document.

A trust can be revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust has to be created during your lifetime. If you change your mind, you can cancel the trust and reclaim the assets. With a revocable trust you can enjoy incapacity protection and probate avoidance—but not tax reduction. In contrast, an irrevocable trust can be created while you’re alive or at your death (a revocable trust becomes irrevocable at your death).

Assets transferred to an irrevocable trust during your lifetime may be shielded from creditors and divorce settlements. The same is true for the assets put into an irrevocable trust at your death.

Your heirs can be the beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust. The trustee you’ve designated will be tasked with distributing funds to the beneficiaries. The trustee will be responsible for protecting trust assets.

Contact an experienced trust attorney with your questions about possibly creating a trust for your situation.

Reference: FedWeek (May 9, 2019) “The Basics of Trusts”

 

What Should I Look for in a Trustee?

Selecting a trustee to manage your estate after you pass away is an important decision. It’s common for people to choose either a friend or family member, a professional trustee or a trust company or corporate trustee for this critical role. Depending on the type of trust you’re creating, the trustee will be in charge of overseeing your assets and the assets of your family.

Forbes’s recent article, “How To Choose A Trustee,” helps you identify what you should look for in a trustee.

If you go with a family member or friend, she should be financially savvy and good with money. You want someone who is knows something about investing, and preferably someone who has assets of their own that they are investing with a qualified professional investment advisor.

A good thing about selecting a friend or family member as trustee, is that they’re going to be most familiar with you and your family. They will also understand your family’s dynamics.  Family members also usually don’t charge a trustee fee (although they are entitled to do so).  However, your family may be better off with a professional trustee or trust company that has expertise with trust administration. This may eliminate some potentially hard feelings in the family. Another negative is that your family member may be too close to the family and may get caught up in the drama.They may also have a power trip and like having total control of your beneficiary’s finances.

The advantage of an attorney serving as a trustee, is that they have familiarity with your family, if you’ve worked together for some time. There will, however, be a charge for their time spent serving as trustee.

Trust companies will have more structure and oversight to the trust administration, including a trust department that oversees the administration. This will be more expensive, but it may be money well spent. A trust company can make the tough decisions and tell beneficiaries “no” when needed. It’s common to use a trust company, when the beneficiaries don’t get along, when there is a problem beneficiary or when it’s a large sum of money. A drawback is that a trust company may be difficult to remove or become inflexible. They also may be stingy about distributions, if it will reduce the assets under management that they’re investing. You can solve this by giving a neutral third party, like a trusted family member, the ability to remove and replace the trustee.

Talk to your estate planning attorney and go through your concerns to find a solution that works for you and your family.

Reference: Forbes (May 31, 2019) “How To Choose A Trustee”