Surviving Spouse Needs An Estate Plan

When one spouse dies after meticulously titling assets to pass through joint tenancy to the surviving spouse, estate planning attorneys flinch. There are occasions when everything works smoothly, but they are the exception. As this article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel warns “After husband’s death, wife needs to create revocable trust.” Actually, she needs more than a revocable trust: she needs an estate plan.

Most of the assets in the plan created by her husband, in this case, did pass to the wife outside of probate. However, there are a number of details that remain. She needs to obtain date-of-death values for any non-IRA securities the couple owned, and she should also have their home’s value determined, so that a new cost basis for the house will be established. She also needs an appointment with an estate planning attorney to create a will and an estate plan.

If she dies without a will, her children will inherit the estate in equal shares by intestate succession. However, if any of her children pass before she does, the estate could be distributed to her grandchildren. If they are of legal age, there is no control over how the assets will be managed.  Making matters worse, if a child or grandchild is disabled and receiving government benefits, an inheritance could make them ineligible for Social Security and Medicaid benefits, unless the inheritance is held within a Special Needs Trust.

Another reason for an estate plan: a will details exactly how assets are distributed, from the set of pearls that great aunt Sarah has kept in the family for decades to the family home. A durable power of attorney is also part of an estate plan, which lets a named family member or trusted friend make financial decisions on your behalf, if you become incapacitated. An estate plan also includes an advance health care directive, so a loved one can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not able.

These are the basics of an estate plan. They protect loved ones from having to go to court to obtain the power to make decisions on your behalf, as well as protect your family from outsiders making claims on your estate.

A revocable trust is one way to avoid probate. An estate planning attorney will be able to evaluate your own unique situation and determine what the best type of trust would be for your situation, or if you even need a trust.

You may be thinking of putting your home, most families’ biggest asset, into joint tenancy with your children. What if one or more of your children have a divorce, lawsuit or bankruptcy? This will jeopardize your control of your home. A revocable trust will allow your assets to remain in your control.

The last piece in this estate is the IRA. If you are the surviving spouse, you’ll want to roll over your spouse’s IRA into your own. Make sure to update the beneficiary designation. If you neglect this step and the IRA pays into your estate when you pass, then the IRA has to be cashed in within five years of your death. Your children will lose the opportunity to stretch IRA distributions over their lifetimes.

An estate planning attorney can help guide you through this entire process, working through all the details. If your goal is to avoid probate, they can make that happen, while protecting you and your loved ones at the same time.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (March 24, 2019) “After husband’s death, wife needs to create revocable trust”

 

What Are the Common Myths of Powers of Attorney?

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s recent article entitled “Five common myths about powers of attorney” explains away some misconceptions about powers of attorney.

  1. There’s just one uniform power of attorney document. No, there are many types. However, they can vary by state. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to draft a document to meet your specific needs.
  2. It’s OK to sign a power of attorney, even if I lack mental capacity. No, to be valid, the person granting the rights (the principal) must have mental capacity to execute the document. A power of attorney can be valid for an individual with mental incapacity, provided the document was signed before the occurrence. That’s a key reason to have a durable power of attorney in place.
  3. A durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney are the same thing. No, a durable power of attorney grants rights to an agent to act on your behalf, regarding your assets. These rights can be general to all assets for an unlimited time, or the POA can be limited as to the time frame and assets included. A medical power of attorney grants an agent the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf.
  4. Senior citizens are the ones who need a power of attorney. Not true, because accidents and unforeseen illness can strike at any age. You need to have a plan in place to ease the burden of one aspect of an already stressful and complicated situation. Don’t assume your spouse has automatic power to make decisions on your behalf. It can be much more difficult, unless you have given them the power of attorney.
  5. A power of attorney can be used to handle my relative’s estate at death. Again, not true. Although there are other ways to structure an estate to avoid probate, a power of attorney isn’t one of them. A power of attorney lets the agent to stand in the place of the principal to make decisions. It doesn’t continue beyond the death of the principal.

If you avoid these common misconceptions, a power of attorney prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney can be a very useful tool to meet your needs.

Reference: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (March 15, 2019) “Five common myths about powers of attorney”

 

There’s A Reason Why There are Laws about Wills and Estates

There are laws about Wills and Estates and if this sounds like a question from a lawyer’s bar exam, that would be about right. It sounds like the first will should be in control, since his intentions were made clear in the first will, even if it was not executed correctly. This was explained by nwi.com in the article “Estate Planning: Will formalities are important.” However, there are many different factors that go into determining which of these three wills should be the one that the court accepts. This is a good illustration of why a will should be prepared with the help of an estate planning attorney.

First, is the third will valid? If there were no witnesses, it seems very clear that it is not. Except for very unusual circumstances, a will is only valid if it is in writing, signed by the person who is its “creator,” which is the “testator,” and witnessed by not one but two witnesses.

The next question is, how about that second will? Is it valid? Was the second will revoked, when the third was created, even though it was not properly executed?

There are two basic ways to revoke a will: physical destruction or written instrument. If the will was not destroyed, then the revocation of the second is considered to have occurred by the creation of the third will. Most wills contain a recital revoking all previous wills and codicils, which serves as a written revocation.

However, there’s a problem. Because the third will is most likely void, then it could not have revoked the second will. Will revocations also need to be witnessed, and since the third will was not witnessed, the recital contained in the third will revoking the prior wills is also void.

It, therefore, seems that the second will is valid in this situation. We say it seems, because there may be other factors that might also make the second will invalid: we don’t have all the facts.

The lesson from this article is that when it comes to wills, trusts and estate plans, the formalities really do matter. Procedures and formalities are considered more important than intent.

Another story that illustrates that point comes from an attorney who was involved in an estate matter where the person who made the will tried to take out several beneficiaries, by taking a razor blade to the document and physically removing their names from the will. The estate battle began after he died. The intention was clear—to remove the beneficiaries from the will. However, because the proper formalities were not followed, the beneficiaries were not properly removed from the will and they received their bequests after all.

If you have a will and estate plan and you wish to make changes to it, sit down with an estate planning attorney to discuss the changes you want to make, and have the documents properly revised, following all the required steps. Don’t try to do this yourself: your wishes may not be followed otherwise.

Reference: nwi.com (March 10, 2019) “Estate Planning: Will formalities are important”

 

Beverly Hills 90210 Star Luke Perry Did Have an Estate Plan

Luke Perry’s death at age 52 from a condition that we think of as something that happens to older people, has made many people thinks differently about strokes. As reported in the Forbes article “Luke Perry Protected His Family With Estate Planning” Perry was savvy enough to do the proper estate planning, which made a difficult situation easier for his family.

Perry was heavily sedated following the first stroke and five days later, his family made the difficult decision to remove life support. It had become obvious that he was not going to recover, following a second stroke. He was surrounded by his children, 18-year-old Sophie, 21-year-old Jack, Perry’s fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings and others.

The decision to allow Luke Perry to die, when only a week earlier he had been alive and vibrant, could not have been easy. It appears that he had the correct legal documents in place, since the hospital allowed his family to make the decision to end life support. In California, those wishes are made in writing, using an Advance Directive or Power of Attorney. Without those documents, his family would have needed to obtain an order from a probate court to permit the hospital to terminate life support, especially if there was any disagreement about this decision from family members.

That would have been a public and painful experience, making things harder for his family.

Perry reportedly had a will created in 2015 leaving everything to his two children. Earlier that year, he had become a spokesperson for screening for colorectal cancer. He had undergone a colonoscopy and learned that he had precancerous growths, which led him to advise others to do the same testing. According to friends, it was after this experience that Perry had a will created to protect his children.

It is thought (but not yet verified) that Perry had a reported net worth of around $10 million, so it’s likely that he created a revocable living trust, in addition to a simple will. If he had only a will, then his estate would have to go through probate court. It’s more likely that he had a trust, and if it was properly funded, then his assets could pass onto his children without any court involvement.

The only question at this time, is whether he made any provisions for his fiancé, Wendy Madison Bauer. Since the will was done in 2015, it’s unlikely that he included her in his estate plan. If they had married, she would have received rights that would not have been automatic but would have depended upon the wording of his will or trust, as well as whether the couple had signed any prenuptial agreements. If they had married and documents did not include an intent to exclude Bauer, she would have been entitled to one-third of his estate.

Luke Perry’s tragic death provides an important lesson for all of us. No one should wait until they are old enough to do estate planning. Perry’s cancer scare, in 2015, gave him the understanding of how quickly life can change, and by having an estate plan in place, he helped his family through a difficult time.

Reference: Forbes (March 8, 2019) “Luke Perry Protected His Family With Estate Planning”

 

Why Would a Guy Like Me Need a Will?

Wills don’t have to be complicated, but it’s best to work with a seasoned estate planning attorney. Wills must be dated, signed, witnessed and notarized. If you don’t have a will, it delays the process considerably and may delay payment of the deceased’s assets to his or her heirs. To eliminate some of the mystery from the will creation process, here are several items that all wills need to have to be legally binding. The Daily Advertiser’s recent article, “Where there is a will, there is a plan in place“ provides some definitions for key concepts and reminders for the estate planning process.

Testator. The creator of the will must provide his name, address and intention to create a distribution process for his assets. He must also state that the will being made is his last will and testament, revoking any other prior wills. Revocation of prior wills is important to show that the decisions made in the current will are final and the recent date on the will evidences how current the will is and to know which will (if there are others) supersedes all others.

Debts. The will must explain how any outstanding bills will be paid. These include the funeral costs, medical costs, taxes, court costs for settling the estate, and any other expenses the deceased may have at his death.

Heirs. A will should detail who gets what. Specific bequests should state a full description of the physical asset or, if money is to be distributed, then a percentage of the estate’s value or specific amount should be listed. Most testators don’t know the effect that death taxes or final expenses will have on an estate. Therefore, percentages work better, because it’s a percentage of what is available to be distributed.

Executor. This is the person who will take the will through the probate process, account for the decedent’s personal property, pay taxes and debts, and distribute the assets to the heirs, according to the will. Choosing an executor is an important decision. He or she should be trustworthy and knowledgeable about financial matters.

Guardian. A guardian needs to be named to care for minor children. This person should mirror the parents’ values and ideas as to the care and raising of the minor children. A relative or parent shouldn’t be selected just based on kinship. If a guardian isn’t selected, the court will choose one, and that person may not be capable of handling young children over the long-term.

Funeral Arrangements. You may not want a big expensive funeral, but without specific instructions, your funeral arrangements might be overly grand and out of character with your personality. Just add a paragraph detailing your wishes.

Reference: Daily Advertiser (March 10, 2019) “Where there is a will, there is a plan in place“

 

As a New Parent, Have You Updated (or Created) Your Estate Plan?

You just had a baby. Now you’re sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and frazzled. Having a child dramatically changes one’s legacy plan and makes having a plan all the more necessary, says ThinkAdvisor’s recent article, “5 Legacy Planning Basics for New Parents.”

Take time to talk through two high-priority items. Create a staggered checklist—starting with today—and set attainable dates to complete the rest of the tasks. Here are five things to put on that list:

  1. Will. This gives the probate court your instructions on who will care for your children, if something happens to both you and your spouse. A will also should name a guardian to be responsible for the children. Parents also should think about how they want to share their personal belongings and financial assets. Without a will, the state decides what goes to whom. Lastly, a will must name an executor.
  2. Beneficiaries. Review your beneficiary designations when you who will care for your children because you don’t want your will and designations (on life insurance policies and investments) telling two different stories. If there’s an issue, the beneficiary designation overrides the will.
  3. Trust. Created by an experienced estate planning attorney, a trust has some excellent benefits, particularly if you have young children. Everything in a trust is shielded from probate court, including property. This avoids court fees and hassle. A trust also provides some flexibility and customization to your plan. You can instruct that your children get a sum of money at 18, 25 or 30, and you can say that the money is for school, among other conditions. The trustee will distribute funds, according to your instructions.
  4. Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. These are two separate documents, but they’re both used in the event of incapacitation. Their power of attorney and health care proxy designees can make important financial and medical decisions, when you’re incapable of doing so.
  5. Life Insurance. Most people don’t think about purchasing life insurance, until they have children. Therefore, if you haven’t thought about it, you’re not alone. If you are among the few who bought a policy pre-child, consider increasing the amount so your child is covered, if something should happen.

Reference: ThinkAdvisor (March 7, 2019) “5 Legacy Planning Basics for New Parents”

 

Health Care Decisions Require a Medical Power of Attorney

The patient above was asked if he had a living will or a health care directive. He wondered, why are they asking me this? It’s a simple knee replacement surgery. Do they think I am going to die? However, as discussed in the article “Take control of health care decisions in 2019 | Coming of Age…Again” from the Kirkland Reporter, all of these documents need to be in place anytime a medical procedure takes place, no matter how routine the patient may think it is.

Someone, whether a parent, spouse, friend or colleague, needs to be able to have the legal power to make decisions on your behalf, when you cannot. You need a health care directive or a durable Power of Attorney for health care, or both, or to have both of these documents combined into one (depending upon the state you live in; these laws vary by state). In Washington, the official term is health care directive. In other states, the term living will is used.

The health care directive is used to tell doctors and medical caregivers of your choices about medical interventions that you would or would not want to be used, in the unexpected event that you become seriously or critically injured, terminally ill or unable to communicate with those around you.

If you don’t have this document, the decisions will be made by select members of your family with health care professionals. If you don’t want certain things to happen, like being intubated or put on a feeding tube, and they feel strongly that they want to keep you alive, your wishes may not be followed.

A Power of Attorney and health care directives are created when working with an estate planning attorney to create an overall estate plan, which includes your will and any necessary trusts. These documents are too important to try to do on your own. There are major implications. What if they are not executed properly?

The person who is your health care agent has the authority to stop medical treatment on your behalf, or to refuse it. They can hire or fire any medical professional working on your care, and they can determine which medical facility should treat you. They can visit you, regardless of any visitation restrictions, and review your medical records. A durable Power of Attorney for health care gives this person the right to make decisions that are not necessarily covered in your health care directive.

Note that you can revoke your Power of Attorney document at any time, with a written notice to your agent.

These are complicated matters that deserve thoughtful consideration. The person you name will have tremendous responsibility — you are putting your life into their hands. Make sure the person you select is willing to take this responsibility on and have a secondary person in mind, just in case.

Reference: Kirkland Reporter (Feb. 20, 2019) “Take control of health care decisions in 2019 | Coming of Age…Again”

 

What Do Parents Need to Know About Writing a Will?

Who wants to think about their own mortality? No one. However, it’s a fact of life. If you die without a will, it can mean conflict among your survivors, as they attempt to see how best to divide up your assets.

Fatherly’s recent article, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know” says that families can battle over big assets like cars to small assets like a collection of supposedly rare books. They can fight over anything and everything. Therefore, remember to prepare and sign a last will and testament to dispose of your property the way you want.

Dying without a will means your estate will be disposed of according to the intestacy laws. That could leave your loved ones in the lurch. For instance, in some states, your spouse may only get half your estate, with the remainder going to your parents.

Writing a will is essential, and you should not try to do it yourself. Instead, hire an experienced estate planning lawyer. Along with this, keep these items in mind.

Plan for Every Scenario. When doing your estate planning, consider the various scenarios and contingencies that can happen after you’re gone. A well prepared will includes when and where you want your assets to go. Be wise in how to distribute your assets, to whom they will be going and the timing.

Family Dynamics. You must be very specific when drafting up a will, especially if family circumstances are unique, such when there are children from previous marriages who aren’t legally adopted by a spouse. They could be disinherited. Work with an attorney to make sure they receive what you intend with specific details. If you and your partner aren’t legally married, your significant other could find himself or herself disinherited from your assets after you’re dead.

Designating Your Children’s Guardian. If you don’t name a guardian for your children (in cases of either single parenthood or where both parents pass away), the state will determine who gets your children.

Specificity. Your will is a chance to say who gets what. If you want your brother to get the baseball card collection, you should write it down in your will or it’s not enforceable. In some states, you can attach a written list of these personal items to your will.

Health Care. Begin planning your will when you’re healthy so that, in the event of disaster, you will have a financial power of attorney and a health care agent in place. If you become too ill to make decisions yourself, you’ll need to appoint someone to make those decisions for you.

Rules for Minors. Minors can own property, but they’ll have no control over it until they turn 18. If parents leave their home to their minor child, the surviving spouse will have issues if they want to sell it. Likewise, if a child is named the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, IRA, or 401(k), those assets will go into a protected account.

Don’t Do It Yourself. This cannot be emphasized enough. It’s tempting to create a will from a generic form online. But this may be a recipe for disaster. If your will is drafted poorly, your family will suffer the consequences. Generic forms found online are just that—generic. Families are not generic. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with what can be a complex process.

Reference: Fatherly (February 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

 

The Dark Side of Reverse Mortgages for Seniors

It sounds great, even if you know that the reverse mortgages are known to be a little on the pricey side. However, unexpected circumstances can make this last-chance-to-save-your-They should also have an attorney review the contract from the reverse mortgage company. backfire in a big way. Just ask Evelyn Boice, who is still wearing the same clothing that she brought to babysit her grandchildren last February. The Union Leader shares her story in the article “Silver Linings: Reverse mortgages for seniors–Lifestyle Maintenance or money pit?”

It seems that a flood at Evelyn’s retirement home caused by burst pipes led to a financial disaster. She’s 83 and didn’t expect to spend her last years living in an apartment attached to her daughter’s home. She’s got a chair, a TV, a bed and a kitchen stool. Everything she owned was destroyed in the flood.

She does have a lot of notebooks—stacks of confusing and incomplete financial statements loaded with indecipherable charges, including a $35 charge every time she calls the reverse mortgage company for help. She’s got threatening letters about being in default, while she waits for the mortgage lender to release an insurance check for $48,651 that she would use to salvage what’s left of her home.

When she called the insurance company, she heard an awful comment from someone at the office: “Why doesn’t she just hurry up and die?”

Boice took out a reverse mortgage in 2007 and used $50,000 of a $200,000 loan to make emergency repairs after Hurricane Wilma struck her home, blowing out windows and doors. However, the danger comes, when homeowners don’t have enough money to live on and maintain their homes, make essential repairs or pay for insurance and property taxes. That’s non-negotiable with a reverse mortgage. Any kind of default can lead to a cascade of new expenses for appraisals, property inspections and legal work to protect the lender. The lender has all the power and all the fine print.

Her case is an extreme example of what can go wrong. In 12 years, an unbelievable amount of paperwork has accumulated. One document shows that she owes $265,000, a number that keeps increasing. The monthly interest charges range from $100 to more than $1,000, and lump sums of more than $2,500, reflecting property taxes.

Boice is getting some help from the Claremont office of New Hampshire Legal Assistance. They are helping her work through the issue, but it may only come in the form of tax deferment or reductions.

Before taking out a reverse mortgage, seniors should look at all available options. They should also have an attorney review the contract from the reverse mortgage company. One small mistake can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Reference: Union Leader (Feb. 2, 2019) “Silver Linings: Reverse mortgages for seniors–Lifestyle Maintenance or money pit?”

 

Your Most Important Asset Is Not Your Bank Account

It’s hard to think about getting older. When something is challenging, the usual human response is to procrastinate. We can’t slow down the aging process, but we can prepare for it. One of the things that needs to be done to prepare for aging, is discussed in the article from The Mercury titled “REINVENTING RETIREMENT: Your most important asset—it’s not what you think.” Good health is definitely important, but there’s something else to consider: your independence.

We hate to think about becoming dependent upon others, but that is often what occurs with aging. This is an asset that needs to be planned for and managed, like any other. Here are some tips for each decade:

Health Care Directives in Your 50s. You need to have a will and you need to have it updated, as the years go by. However, in mid-life you need to make sure to have a living will and power of attorney. Estate planning is a tool used to protect your independence and your wishes as you grow older. These two documents are a critical part of your estate plan. A health crisis or an accident can happen to anyone, but planning can ensure that your wishes are followed. Put your wishes on paper, with an attorney, so that they are enforceable. Just telling someone what you want, is not going to do it.

Home and Belongings in Your 60s. The kids are out of college and have their own careers and families. Do you still need that big house? Downsizing could bring you tremendous freedom now. Yes, you have to go through all of your belongings which is a lot of work. However, consider how your life would change if you had less stuff, a smaller home and lower bills? This one move could change how your retirement succeeds—or fails.

Stay Connected in your 70s and 80s. Connecting with your community is critical at this time of life. When you are actively engaged with your community, you’ll be busy with activities that you enjoy. You will hopefully be making contributions that draw on your years of experience and knowledge. Hope and having a purpose in life is not just for the young. The healthiest and most independent lives, are lived when people are engaged with other people, with a life that has meaning and purpose.

Planning for your retirement is about much more than your bank account. Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure that your estate plan protects your independence, conveys your wishes and plans the coming stages of your life to be as rewarding—or maybe more fulfilling—than the past.

Reference: The Mercury (Feb. 10, 2019) “REINVENTING RETIREMENT: Your most important asset—it’s not what you think”