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Law Office of Michael D. DellaMonaca

Have a Plan for Life

Why is Financial Fraud So Risky for Seniors?

“[Financial fraud] is a very high risk for 100 percent of the elderly population,” said North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. “Senior citizens have social security coming [in]. Maybe they have a pension [or] some savings. This is a magnet for crooks and people who want to take their golden years away from them and line their pockets with somebody else’s gold.”

WRAL.com says, in the article “Elderly population a ‘very high risk’ for financial fraud,” that scams looking to make a quick buck and disappear may be easier to see, than the subtle but truly harmful abuse that makes a more significant impact.

As people get older, they usually depend more on close family and friends for help, but it can be very easy to abuse that relationship. These types of activities usually target seniors who have diminished mental or physical capacities. Abuse can begin when seniors put their trust in the wrong people. It can be a very close, trusted family member or the caregiver—someone who’s very close physically or in relationship.

It’s not uncommon for a senior to be persuaded to change his will to benefit a person with whom he had developed a close relationship, only to find out the person had ulterior motives. This type of financial abuse or exploitation can also be hard to see initially.

“Sadly, so much of the elder abuse is done by somebody in the family who is trusted, who is caring for this person, and then takes advantage of them,” Marshall said.

“A word of caution to families–as folks get isolated and lonely, it is very important that they have social contact in a positive nature, every day. Not just somebody coming in to see if they’re walking around and eating,” Marshall said. “They need socialization. And therein becomes an avenue for crooks to follow.”

Seniors should also be wary of invitations to sales pitches masked as “free lunches,” charities that aren’t who they say they are and writing checks to unverified individuals. If it sounds too good to be true, the elderly should use extreme caution before making a financial commitment.

To prevent this, families can divide responsibility between more than one family member. If you have multiple children, giving each one access to the finances makes certain that anything bad will be detected quickly. Another option is to create a trust with the help of an elder law or estate planning attorney. A trust permits the designation of a trustee and requires a more thorough credentialing process to access the assets. An elder law attorney can help in creating a trust and can provide advice on any other methods to protect your finances.

It comes down to determining whom you can trust. Finding credentialed individuals to help you manage and establish safeguards for your assets is critical.

Reference: WRAL.com (January 2, 2019) “Elderly population a ‘very high risk’ for financial fraud”

How Much Control from the Grave Can Parents Have?

Parents who want to protect their home from being sold by heirs can do so by way of a dynasty trust but it gets complicated, explains the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s article “Not a good idea to keep home in ‘dynasty trust.’” Every situation is different, so every family considering this strategy should meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn if this is a solution or an added complication.

Why would the parents want to make their children’s lives complicated? Perhaps they think the children are likely to end up in a bad situation and they are attempting to provide a safe landing for what they believe is inevitable. Or they simply cannot manage the idea that one day the house won’t be part of the family.

The house can be protected from a sale through the use of a revocable trust. Instead of distributing the home in equal shares among their children along with all of their other assets, the house can be put in the trust and their trust can continue after their deaths. The trust can include any restrictions they want with respect to how they want the home to be maintained after their deaths.

They can even put their home into a dynasty trust. Done correctly, a dynasty trust can hold the property for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. However, there are some issues.

First, if the home is held in trust it means that the trust must be funded since there will be expenses for the home, including maintenance and upkeep. Unless the home is used as a rental property, there won’t be any income to pay for these expenses. The parents will need to leave a significant amount of assets in the trust so that big and small items can be paid for, or the children may be charged with paying for the expenses.

Next is the problem of capital gains taxes. When the parents pass, the home receives a stepped-up cost basis. That means that when the property is eventually sold, the amount of capital gains tax and in this case, California income tax due, will be based on the increase of the value of the property since the surviving spouses’ date of death.

If the home is held in trust until all of the siblings have died, the value of the house will likely have increased dramatically. Where is the money to pay the taxes coming from? Will the house need to be sold to pay the tax?

What if one of the children decides to move into the house and lets it get run down? The other two siblings may never receive their inheritance. There are so many different ways that this could lead to an endless series of family disputes.

Keeping a “spare” house may not be realistic. It may force the children to become rental property managers when they don’t want to. It may exhaust their finances. In other words, it may become a family burden, and not a place of refuge.

Talk with an estate planning attorney. It may be far better to distribute the home outright to the children along with other assets and let them decide what the best way forward will be.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (December 1, 2019) “Not a good idea to keep home in ‘dynasty trust.’”

 

Disinheriting Loved Ones is A Common Mistake

It happens way more often than you’d ever expect. The account owner dies, the assets go directly to the beneficiaries on the account, and the heirs learn for the first time that whatever is in the will doesn’t override the beneficiary designation. They can argue and even go to court but it won’t do them much good, says the recent article “Don’t accidentally leave your estate to the wrong person” from The News-Enterprise.

One of many examples, is the widower who remarries after his first wife passes away. He neglects to change his IRA beneficiary form so when he dies, his second wife does not receive any funds. The case of what happens to the funds has to go to court because the assets obviously cannot go to his deceased first wife.

Many different kinds of accounts now have beneficiary designations. They include:

  • S. Savings Bonds
  • Bank Accounts
  • Certificates of Deposits
  • Investment Accounts
  • Life Insurance
  • Annuities
  • Retirement Accounts

Some of these accounts can be titled “Payable on Death” or “Transferable on Death,” so that they can more easily be distributed to heirs without going through probate.

If you’ve changed jobs, remember that beneficiary designations do not transfer over, when you roll your 401(k) over to a new plan or IRA.

Here’s another thing most people don’t know about beneficiary designations: they don’t have to be individuals. Beneficiaries can be trusts, charities, organizations, your estate, or, no one at all (although that’s not recommended). Be careful, though, if you are thinking about being creative, like saying “All of my living grandchildren.” What if someone who your family has never met comes forward and claims to be a grandchild? It’s best to discuss this with an estate planning lawyer.

There are situations where you don’t want to name someone as a beneficiary. You don’t want to leave assets outright to minors, since they cannot inherit property. A court-appointed guardian would have to be named to care for the assets, until the child reaches age 18. Then the 18 year old inherits everything at once and goes on a wild spending spree, and the money is gone. A better approach is to set up a trust, so the trust is the beneficiary of the assets and the trust pays money to heirs over an extended period of time.

Caution must be taken, when considering Special Needs Individuals. If they are receiving government benefits, an inheritance could cause them to lose all benefits. Instead, speak with your estate planning attorney about the use of a Special Needs Trust or Supplemental Needs Trust.

Updating the beneficiary form is simple. Contact the financial company that holds the accounts, ask for a copy of your current beneficiary form, and a blank copy so that you can make changes, if needed. Keep a copy of all current beneficiary forms. You should also speak with your estate planning attorney to make sure that your estate plan and your beneficiary designations work together.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (November 30, 2019) “Don’t accidentally leave your estate to the wrong person”

 

What Estate Planning Documents Does My Child Need Now That She’s an Adult?

Your child may graduate from high school and head off to college or start a full-time job or vocational training program.  Although they’re still your children, the law sees them as are adults.  As a result, parents’ “rights” to protect their adult children or make decisions for them immediately becomes quite limited.

The Tewksbury Town Crier’s recent article, “Is your child turning 18? Here’s what you need to know,” explains that people often have an estate planning attorney draft the appropriate documents, so they will be legal and binding. Let’s look at a list of documents to consider and discuss with your young adult:

  • HIPAA Authorization: if your 18-year-old has a job in another state or will be attending college and needs medical records or assistance making appointments, ask her to go to the doctor’s and dentist’s office and sign forms that designate agents to act on her behalf. Due to HIPAA laws, information can’t be released without the adult child’s permission.
  • Healthcare Proxy: Have your 18-year old complete this document, make a copy, put a copy on each parent or guardian’s phone and put a copy on your child’s phone. This is for an emergency, like when the child can’t speak for herself. However, don’t wait for an emergency. If your child is at college, the school will only contact you as the emergency contact, but the proxy is between you and the hospital and includes mental health issues. A healthcare proxy lets you to participate in life and death decisions, should your child not be able to advocate for herself.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: A general durable power of attorney or financial power of attorney must also be signed by the 18-year old, designating his parents, guardians, or others as agents authorized to act on his behalf. This allows the agent access to financial information, so that he can participate in the financial issues with a university or business in the event that the child cannot.
  • Contact an estate planning attorney if you wish to discuss any of the above items. Do not prepare these documents on your own.
  • FERPA: This is an educational records release, which allows the educational institution to share grades, transcripts and other related materials with parents or designated agents. Without it, the school will not provide you with access to any information.

Finally, encourage your young adult family member to register to vote.

Reference: Tewksbury Town Crier (December 8, 2019) “Is your child turning 18? Here’s what you need to know”

 

When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

When a person hits the age of 18, they should at least have powers of attorney to designate who will make their healthcare decisions and handle their finances, in the event of any incapacity. When a person starts to accumulate assets and have children, it’s critical to have an estate plan in place.

Bankrate’s recent article, “Estate planning triggers: When to re-evaluate your estate planning strategy,” says the risk of not having a current estate plan and will that state your wishes is significant. When  people fail to put any plan into place, it leads to confusion, chaos and unintended consequences. Use this list of important life events as triggers to remind you to discuss your current situation with a trusted attorney.

Getting married. You and your future spouse probably have had some financial conversations before getting engaged. However, if you haven’t, once wedding plans are set, it’s vital to discuss all aspects of each partner’s financial situation and the desired distribution of assets. You should decide whether to sign a prenuptial agreement, the totals of your separate and joint assets and who you want inherit those assets should on or both spouses pass on. In light of these factors and the prenuptial agreement, an estate plan that satisfies both parties must be created.

Starting a family. The decision to have a child comes with the responsibility of planning for that child’s care. You and your partner will want to determine the amount of your assets you want to pass to your children in the case of a death, at what age your children will inherit those assets and name a legal guardian.

Divorce. If a couple decides to divorce, it’s important to update their separate estates. If you fail to change the beneficiary designations for a trust or life insurance policy after getting divorced, your ex-spouse may receive the life insurance that was supposed to be paid out to the trust to provide liquidity to pay off debts and administration expenses.

Retirement. Beneficiaries are named when setting up a 401k or Roth IRA account. If you started the account years ago, the beneficiaries may be out-of-date. Retirees should look at their total retirement assets and update their beneficiaries to reflect their current relationship and financial circumstances.

Other life events. Any significant change in assets, a move to another state, the death or disability of a person named in your estate plan, a change in tax laws, a disability of a beneficiary that arises after the initial plan is executed, and/or the birth, adoption, or death of a child are all important life events that should trigger a revision of your estate plan.

Reference: Bankrate (March 4, 2019) “Estate planning triggers: When to re-evaluate your estate planning strategy”