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Law Office of Michael D. DellaMonaca

Have a Plan for Life

What Happens when Mom Refuses to Create an Estate Plan?

This is a tough scenario. It happens more often than you’d think. Someone owns a home, investment accounts and an inheritance but doesn’t want to have an estate plan. They know they need to do something but keep putting it off—until they die, and the family is left with an expensive and stressful mess. A recent article titled “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late” from Kiplinger, explains how to help make things right.

Most people put off seeing an estate planning attorney because they are afraid of death. They may also be overwhelmed by the thought of how much work is involved. They are also worried about what it all might cost. however, if there is no estate plan, the costs will be far higher for the family.

How do you get the person to understand that they need to move forward?

Talk with the financial professionals the person already uses and trusts, like a CPA or financial advisor. Ask them for a referral to an estate planning attorney they think would be a good fit with the person who doesn’t have an estate plan. It may be easier to hear this message from a CPA, than from an adult child.  Work with that professional to promote the person, usually an older family member, to get comfortable with the idea to talk about their wishes and values with the estate planning attorney. Offer to attend the meeting or to facilitate the video conference, to make the person feel more comfortable.

An experienced estate planning attorney will have worked with reluctant people before. They’ll know how to put the older person at ease and explore their concerns. When the conversation is pleasant and productive, the person may understand that the process will not be as challenging and that there will be a lot of help along the way.

If there is no trusted team of professionals, then offer to be a part of any conversations with the estate planning attorney to make the introductory discussion easier. Share your own experience in estate planning, and tread lightly.

Trying to force a person to engage in estate planning with a heavy hand, almost always ends up in a stubborn refusal. A gentle approach will always be more successful. Explain how part of the estate plan includes planning for medical decisions while the person is living and is not just about distributing their assets. You should be firm, consistent and kind.

Explaining what their family members will need to go through if there is no will, may or may not have an impact. Some people don’t care, and may simply shrug and say, “It’ll be their problem, not mine.” Consider what or who matters to the person. What if they could leave assets for a favorite grandchild to go to college? That might be more motivating.

One other thing to consider: if the person has an estate plan and it is out of date, that may be just as bad as not having an estate plan at all, especially when the person has been divorced and remarried. Just as many people refuse to have an estate plan, many people fail to update important documents, when they remarry. More than a few spouses come to estate planning attorney’s offices, when a loved one’s life insurance policy is going to their prior spouse. It’s too late to make any changes. A health care directive could also name a former brother-in-law to make important medical decisions. During a time of great duress, it is a bad time to learn that the formerly close in-law, who is now a sworn enemy, is the only one who can speak with doctors. Don’t procrastinate if any of these issues are present.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 11, 2020) “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late”

 

Estate Planning Basics for Difficult Times

Most people who contract COVID-19 experience mild symptoms but it does not hurt to be prepared just in case you need to be hospitalized, explains the article “A Guide to Estate Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic” from HuffPost.com. It is scary to think about being so sick that you aren’t able to make decisions for yourself. However, that’s the point of an estate plan to ease your fears. You’ll feel better knowing you’ve made health and financial decisions in advance and your loved ones won’t have to guess about your wishes. These are the estate planning basics for difficult times.

Even without a global pandemic, everyone should have an estate plan. If you don’t have one, now is the time to get it done, even if you are single and have limited wealth. An estate plan includes documents like a revocable trust, financial powers of attorney (FPOA), health care powers of attorney (HCPOA) and more.

Right now, the medical and financial powers of attorney are on everyone’s mind. These two documents allow a person you name to do your banking, pay your bills and make medical decisions, if you are quarantined at home, admitted to the hospital, or become incapacitated. If you don’t have a financial power of attorney, a family member will need to request the probate court to appoint a guardian. This will be expensive and time-consuming. The same goes for the health care power of attorney. If a decision needs to be made in an emergency situation, the family will not have the ability to enforce your wishes.

A living will, known in some states as an advance health care directive, lets you be specific about what end-of-life treatment you do or do not want to receive, if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Without a living will, the decision to remove life support must be made by loved ones, without knowing what you want.

A HIPAA waiver permits your loved ones to access medical information. Even when there is a health care power of attorney, there are some institutions that will refuse access to medical information without a standalone HIPAA waiver.

The last will and testament is the legal document that is used to direct distribution of property at the time of death, appoint an executor who will oversee the distribution of assets, and, if you have minor children, name a guardian for them. Without a last will, the court will rely on state laws to determine who inherits your property and who will raise your children.

A living trust is a legal contract that creates an entity to hold your assets. If it is a revocable trust, you control it and you can make changes to it anytime you wish. If you become incapacitated or unable to manage your estate, the living trust avoids the need for a court-appointed conservatorship. When you create the living trust, you appoint a successor trustee who will step in when you are unable to manage your affairs. The living trust creates privacy, since the assets in the trust do not go through probate, which is a public process.

Once you have an estate plan, make sure that the documents are safe and the right people can access them. Some estate planning attorneys store documents for their clients. Copies of relevant documents should be given to your treating physician, financial advisor, family members and any trustees or agents. Keep high quality scanned copies on your computer, and label them, so that they can be identified. Don’t name them “Scan1” and “Scan2.” Label them accurately and include the date the documents were signed.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure that you have all of the necessary documents to protect yourself, your loved ones and your property.

Reference: HuffPost.com (April 7, 2020) “A Guide to Estate Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic”

 

Must Seniors at Care Facilities Sign over Stimulus Checks?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that some states across the country have received reports of nursing homes and assisted living facilities that have falsely said that COVID-19 stimulus checks are “resources,” under the rules of federal benefit programs that must be used to pay for services. Soo, must seniors at care facilities sign over Stimulus checks?

It’s “not just a horror story making the rounds.” The FTC says that these are actual reports that officials at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office have been getting – and handling. The FTC noted that other states are experiencing the same types of complaints. The FTC says that it’s not true and urges people to check with family members who get Medicaid and live in these facilities.

They should file a complaint with the state attorney general, if they or a loved one have experienced this problem, says CBS Local New York’s recent article entitled “FTC: Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities Cannot Take Stimulus Money From Medicaid Patients.”

“We’ve been hearing that some facilities are trying to take the stimulus payments intended for their residents on Medicaid,” the FTC says. “Then they’re requiring those people to sign over those funds to the facility. Why? Well, they’re claiming that, because the person is on Medicaid, the facility gets to keep the stimulus payment.”

However, that is false. According to the CARES Act, these economic impact payments are a tax credit, and the law says that tax credits don’t count as “resources” for federal benefits programs, like Medicaid.

 

If you think there’s a problem, you can also file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

Reference: CBS Local New York (May 19, 2020) “FTC: Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities Cannot Take Stimulus Money From Medicaid Patients”

 

How Can Estate Planning Protect Me from COVID-19?

There are several things you need to consider, especially during this COVID-19 situation and your estate planning, explains WFMY.com in the recent article “A different kind of coronavirus protection: Wills & Power of Attorney documents.”

A financial power of attorney is first on the list of things to consider. This essential legal document gives a trusted agent the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.  Most people have their estate planning attorney draft the POA to go into effect once the principal or the person who’s giving the authority can no longer make decisions for themselves.

In addition, if you become ill and fall into a coma, you need someone to be able to also make medical decisions. A health care power of attorney or Health Care Proxy permits your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf. You can also sign a living will, which can state your wishes about healthcare decisions, especially end of life decisions.

A will can state your decisions for the distribution of your assets when you die. However, your property will stay in your name until that occurs. Another option is a living trust, which places your property in a trust for the benefit of a charity, your loved ones, or both. A trust may distribute the property more efficiently.  While the terms in your will and trust are important, you should also have a discussion with your family and let them know what you’re thinking. This will help avoid hard feelings after you’re gone.

It’s important to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney and talk to the people you want to be your POA attorney-in-fact, executor of your will and your trustee. Talk to your attorney about what happens when one of these key persons included in your planning dies.

You should also think about your parents and if they have an estate plan. You should know what will happen, if they become ill and need care. What happens if they get Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia?

You should make certain that you and those you love, have legal estate planning documents in place prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney.

From there, review your plan every few years with your attorney, because things change.

Reference: WFMY.com (April 22, 2020) “A different kind of coronavirus protection: Wills & Power of Attorney documents”

 

Prevent Estate Administration Problems Before They Occur

Estate administration is when the executor pays debts, taxes and distributing assets and is often the time when any missing steps in an estate plan are revealed. The best legal problems are the ones that don’t happen, advises the article “Practical tips for estate administration, pre-planning advice, and a Coronavirus update” from the Winston-Salem Journal. Here are tips to avoid problems:

Do you need a trust to avoid probate fees and simplify estate administration?

Think of a trust as a secret box or bank account. If you own property in another state, want adult heirs to receive their inheritance over a period of time, have a beneficiary with special needs, or simply don’t want the public to learn about your assets, then a stand-alone trust that works in conjunction with your will is something to consider. However, you may be able to achieve some of these goals through beneficiary designations. A big advantage of a trust is that it is not subject to probate; assets in a probate estate become public record. If privacy is an issue, you’ll want a trust.

Is your estate plan out of date?

If your estate plan has not been updated in the last three or four years, it is likely that you have extra expenses that are no longer necessary. It’s also likely that you are missing out on tax savings opportunities. There have recently been a huge number of changes to estate and tax laws. If your will was signed before 2013, it is time to simplify your will. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you.

Did you inherit real estate with your siblings?

If the sale of the property is still pending, get it wrapped up as soon as possible. If one of your siblings dies, or moves away, managing the disposition of real estate can become complicated and expensive.

When was the last time you reviewed Power of Attorney documents?

If you are not competent and critical steps need to be taken for your care, your agents may find themselves unable to act on your behalf, if your POA and related documents are “outdated.” They may need court intervention to make even simple decisions.

How has coronavirus impacted choices in long-term planning documents?

If your will, POA, medical power of attorney and HIPAA release forms have not been updated recently, decisions may be made without any discussion with the people you trust most.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney now to get your legal and financial affairs in order. Many states have granted attorneys the ability to have documents executed and witnessed remotely, so there is no reason not to go forward now.  This all depends on the state that you live in and the current conditions.

Reference: Winston-Salem Journal (May 3, 2020) “Practical tips for estate administration, pre-planning advice, and a Coronavirus update”

 

What Do I Need to Know about a Family Trust?

A family trust is a trust you create to directly benefit your family members financially, explains Yahoo Finance in its article “What Is a Family Trust and How Do You Set One Up?”

The three parties involved in a trust arrangement are the grantor, the trustee and the beneficiaries. The grantor is the person who creates the trust and transfers her assets into it. The trustee manages the assets in the trust for the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries get some type of financial benefit from the trust. With a family trust, it’s just your family members who are beneficiaries.

This is a kind of living trust and can be revocable or irrevocable. It takes effect during your lifetime. A revocable trust can be changed or terminated at any time, but an irrevocable trust is permanent. With a revocable family trust, you can be your own trustee and name successor trustees to take control, in the event you become incapacitated or pass away. If it’s an irrevocable trust, you must designate another person to act as the trustee.

A family trust makes certain that your property is managed according to your instructions for your beneficiaries. You can add a condition that a child can’t use the money until they complete college or reach a certain age. You might also create a family trust if you have a child who needs specialized medical care.

A family trust can also be useful in estate planning if you want to avoid probate. Transferring the title of assets to a family trust means that they’re no longer subject to probate. You can also use an irrevocable family trust to protect assets from creditors if you’re sued.   Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain that this type of trust is right for you.

There are several types of trust options you can use in estate planning. Some of these trusts have extremely specific purposes, while others are more general. An estate planning attorney can help you compare different trust options to help you determine if a family trust is right for your estate plan.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (March 17, 2020) “What Is a Family Trust and How Do You Set One Up?”

 

What Do I Do If I’m Named Financial Power of Attorney?

A financial power of attorney (POA) is a document whereby the “principal” appoints a trusted someone known as the “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” to act on behalf of the principal only when the principal is incapacitated. It typically permits the attorney-in-fact to pay the principal’s bills, access his accounts, pay his taxes and buy and sell investments or even real estate depending on how well the document was prepared. In effect, the attorney-in-fact steps into the shoes of the principal and is able to act for him in all matters, as described in the POA document.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?” says these responsibilities may sound overwhelming and it’s only natural to feel this way initially. Let’s look at the steps to take to do this important job:

  1. Don’t panic but begin reading. Review the POA document and determine what the principal has given you power to do on his behalf. A POA will typically include information addressed to the agent that explains the legal duties he or she owes to the principal. It would be wise to contact the estate planning attorney who prepared the document. Chances are the attorney knows more about the individuals assets than you do.
  2. See what you have to handle for the principal. Create a list of the principal’s assets and liabilities. If the principle is organized, it’ll be easy. If not, you will need to find their brokerage and bank accounts, 401(k)s/IRAs/403(b)s, the mortgage, taxes, insurance and other bills (utilities, phone, cable and internet).
  3. Protect the principal’s property. Be sure the principal’s home is secure and make a video inventory of the home. If it looks like your principal will be incapacitated for an extended period of time, you may cancel the phone and newspaper subscriptions. You may need to change the locks on the principal’s home. If you have control of the principal’s investments and their incapacitation may continue for a long time, review their brokerage statements for high-risk positions that you don’t understand, like options, puts and calls, or commodities. Get advice on liquidating positions you don’t have the know-how to handle.
  4. Pay all bills, as necessary. Look at your principal’s bills and credit card statements for potential fraud. Perhaps you should suspend their credit cards that you won’t be using on the principal’s behalf. Note that they may have bills automatically paid by credit card and plan accordingly.
  5. Pay the taxes. Many powers of attorney give the agent the power to pay the principal’s taxes. If so, you’ll be responsible for filing and paying taxes during the principal’s lifetime. If the principal passes away, the executor of the principal’s last will is responsible for preparing any final taxes.
  6. Keep meticulous records. Track every expenditure you make and every action you take on the principal’s behalf. You’ll be asked to demonstrate that you have upheld your duties and acted in the principal’s best interests. It will also be important for you to receive reimbursement for expenses, and (if the power of attorney provides for it) the time you spent acting as agent.

    Chances are, you will need to contact the principal’s estate planning attorney to discuss the situation at hand to make sure everything is in order as you must always act in the principal’s best interest.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 22, 2020) “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?”

 

What Is an Advance Directive and Why You Need This Document?

The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the entire world. No wonder—it’s a frightening disease that experts are just beginning to understand. Many of us are asking ourselves: Am I ready for a worst-case scenario? Anyone who does not have the health care portion of their estate plan in order, needs to address it now, says the timely article “COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of completing advance directives” from Cincinnati.com.

The topic of an advance directive used to be introduced with a question about what would happen if a person were in a car accident, rushed to the hospital and unable to convey their wishes for care.  The question has now become, what if a sudden onset of COVID-19 occurred and you were unable to speak on your own behalf? Would your loved ones know what you would want or would they have to guess?  All adults—that is, anyone over the age of 18—should have an advance directive. The process of creating this and other health care-related estate planning documents will provide the answers to your loved ones, while helping you work through your wishes. Here’s how to start:

What matters to you? Give this considerable thought. What is important to you, who best knows and understands you and who would you trust to make critical decisions on your behalf in the event of a medical emergency? What medical treatment would you want—or not want—and who can you count on to carry out your wishes?

Get documents in order so your wishes are carried out. Your estate planning attorney can help you draft and execute the documents you need so you can be confident that they will be treated as legitimate by health care providers. The estate planning lawyer will know how to execute the documents, so they are in compliance with your state’s laws. Here’s what you’ll want:

  • A living will which records your wishes for medical treatment if you cannot speak on your own behalf.
  • Medical power of attorney to designate a person to make health care decisions when you are not able to do so. The person is referred to as an agent, surrogate or proxy.
  • A HIPAA release form so the person you designate may speak with your medical care providers.

Note that none of these documents concerns distribution of your personal property and assets. For that, you’ll want a will or revocable living trust which your estate planning attorney can prepare for you.

Talk to loved ones now. Consider this conversation a gift to them. This alleviates them from a lifetime of wondering if they did the right thing for you. Have a forthright conversation with them, let them know about the documents you have had prepared and what your wishes are.

Reference: Cincinnati.com (April 27, 2020) “COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of completing advance directives”

 

Estate Planning Options to Consider in Uncertain Times

Now is a good time to reach out to an estate planning attorney to review and update beneficiaries, named executors, financial and healthcare powers of attorney, wills and trusts, advises the article “Planning Strategies During Market Uncertainty & Volatility: Estate Planning and Debt Usage” from Traders Magazine. There are also some strategic estate planning options to consider in the current environment.

Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (IDGTs): These are irrevocable trusts that are structured to be “intentionally defective.” They are gifts to grantor trusts for non-grantor beneficiaries that allow contributed assets to appreciate outside of the grantor’s estate, while the income produced by the trust is taxed to the grantor, and not the trust. The external appreciation requires the grantor to use non-trust assets to pay the trust’s income taxes, which equals a tax-free gift to the beneficiaries of the trust, while reducing the grantor’s estate. Trust assets can grow tax-free, which creates additional appreciation opportunities for trust beneficiaries. IDGTs are especially useful to owners of real estate, closely held businesses or highly-appreciating assets that are or will likely be exposed to estate tax.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs): GRATs allow asset owners to put assets irrevocably into trusts to benefit others while receiving fixed annuity payments for a period of time. GRATs are especially effective in situations where low asset values and/or interest rates are present, because the “hurdle rate” of the annuity payment will be lower, while the price appreciation is potentially greater. GRATs are often used by asset owners with estate tax exposure who want to transfer assets out of their estate and retain access to cash flow from those assets, while they are living.

Debt strategies: Debt repayment represents an absolute and/or risk-adjusted rate of return that is often the same or better than savings rates or bond yields. Some debt strategies that are now useful include:

Mortgage refinancing: Interest rates are likely to be low for the foreseeable future. People with long-term debt may find refinancing right now an advantageous option.

Opportunistic lines of credit: The low interest rates may make tapping available lines of credit or opening new lines of credit attractive for investment opportunities, wealth transfer, or additional liquidity.

Low-rate intra-family loans: When structured properly, loans between family members can be made at below-interest, IRS-sanctioned interest rates. An estate planning attorney will be able to help structure the intra-family loan, so that it will be considered an arms-length transaction that does not impose gift tax consequences for the lender.

High-rate intra-family or -entity loans: This sounds counter-intuitive, but if structured properly, a high-rate intra-family or -entity loan can charge a higher but tax-appropriate rate that increases a fixed income cash flow for the borrower, while avoiding gift and income tax.

All of these techniques should be examined with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that they align with the overall estate plan for the individual and the family.

Reference: Traders Magazine (May 6, 2020) “Planning Strategies During Market Uncertainty & Volatility: Estate Planning and Debt Usage”

 

What Can I Do to Plan for Incapacity?

Smart advance planning can help preserve family assets, provide for your own well-being and eliminate the stress and publicity of a guardianship hearing, which might be needed if you do nothing. These are just some thoughts to ponder when you are planning for incapacity.

A guardianship or conservatorship for an elderly individual is a legal relationship created when a judge appoints a person to care for an elderly person, who’s no longer able to care for herself.   The guardian has specific duties and responsibilities to the elderly person.

FEDweek’s recent article entitled “Guarding Against the Possibility of Your Incapacity” discusses several possible strategies.

Revocable (“living”) trust. Even after you transfer assets into the trust, you still have the ability to control those assets and collect any income they earn. If you no longer possess the ability to manage your own affairs, a co-trustee or successor trustee can assume management of trust assets on your behalf.

Durable power of attorney. A power of attorney (POA) document names an individual to manage your assets that aren’t held in trust. Another option is to have your estate planning attorney draft powers of attorney for financial institutions that hold assets, like a pension or IRA. Note that many financial firms are reticent to recognize powers of attorney that are not on their own forms.

Joint accounts. You can also establish a joint checking account with a trusted child or other relative. With her name on the account, your daughter can then pay your bills, if necessary. However, note that the assets held in the joint account will pass to the co-owner (daughter) at your death even if you name other heirs in your will.

There may also be health care expenses accompanying incompetency.  This would include your health insurance and also potentially disability insurance in the event your incapacity should happen when you are still be working, and long-term care insurance, to pay providers of custodial care, at home or in a specialized facility, such as a nursing home.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to review the do’s and dont’s of estate planning.

Reference: FEDweek (March 5, 2020) “Guarding Against the Possibility of Your Incapacity”