If I’m 35, Do I Need a Will?

Estate planning is a crucial process for everyone, no matter what assets you have now. If you want your family to be able to deal with your affairs, debts included, drafting an estate plan is critical, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate planning for those 40 and under.”

If you have young children, or other dependents, planning is vitally important. The less you have, the more important your plan is, so it can provide as long as possible and in the best way for those most important to you. You can’t afford to make a mistake.

Talk to your family about various “what if” situations. It is important that you’ve discussed your wishes with your family and that you’ve considered the many contingencies that can happen, like a serious illness or injury, incapacity, or death. This also gives you the chance to explain your rationale for making a larger gift to someone, rather than another or an equal division. This can be especially significant, if there’s a second marriage with children from different relationships and a wide range of ages. An open conversation can help avoid hard feelings later.

You should have the basic estate plan components, which include a will, a living will, advance directive, powers of attorney, and a designation of agent to control disposition of remains. These are all important components of an estate plan that should be created at the beginning of the planning process. A guardian should also be named for any minor children.

In addition, a life insurance policy can give your family the needed funds in the event of an untimely death and loss of income—especially for young parents. The loss of one or both spouses’ income can have a drastic impact.

Remember that your estate plan shouldn’t be a “one and done thing.” You need to review your estate plan every few years. This gives you the opportunity to make changes based on significant life events, tax law changes, the addition of more children, or their changing needs. You should also monitor your insurance policies and investments, because they dovetail into your estate plan and can fluctuate based on the economic environment.

When you draft these documents, you should work with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 21, 2020) “Estate planning for those 40 and under”

 

Seriously, Why Do I Need a Will?

The Times Herald-Record’s article “55 Plus: Four Reasons to Create a Will” provides some tips and important reasons for why you should make a will.

When you create a will with the help of an estate planning attorney, you are able to decide who will execute your estate.

Creating a will and appointing a trusted executor will help make certain that your estate is managed in accordance with your wishes and instructions. If you have a will, you help the people you leave behind. A legally valid will can avoid added costs of legal dealings. If you pass away without a will, the state will decide how your estate is divided.

Creating a will allows you to determine who inherits your estate. Your estate will include your home, motor vehicles, financial accounts and any other personal property you want to pass on to your loved ones. The great thing about a will is that it clearly states the persons or organizations that will receive all or part of your estate after your death.

Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney to help understand your state laws and probate procedures is a wise move.

In your will, you can also decide and designate the person(s) who will care for your minor children. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to appoint a guardian for your minor children, in the event of your death. If you don’t have a will stating a guardianship, a court can make the issue its own and appoint a guardian in your absence. It could be someone you don’t like or someone you hardly know.

By creating a will, you provide several benefits for yourself and your family. A will offers peace of mind that your loved ones will be cared for as you intend, after you’re no longer around.

Finally, a reminder for those with wills and estate plans: review these documents every year or three to be certain that everything is up to date. You want to be sure that your estate plan includes any new spouse, birth or adoption of a child or grandchild, death of a relative and change in your financial situation.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Jan. 6, 2020) “55 Plus: Four Reasons to Create a Will”

 

Three Advanced Questions and Answers Regarding Health Care Decisions for the Elderly

In a perfect world, every adult would have a will, advance care directive and financial and healthcare powers of attorney designated and updated on an annual basis. Unfortunately, more than half of adults in America haven’t gotten around to it. This can result in considerable stress and confusion, when a loved one becomes incapacitated due to illness, accidents or old age. In this article, we answer some of the more advanced questions we’ve had when it comes to caring for elderly loved ones.

Do Adult Children Have any Right to Information About Their Parents’ Medical Condition?

Unless their parent’s physician or other healthcare provider deems it necessary, or the parents have named the adult child as their personal representative for healthcare matters, they do not have any right to their parents’ personal medical information. The same goes for financial information. Unless the parents have named the adult child their power of attorney for financial matters, banks and other financial institutions will not provide any information. If you are concerned about these matters, ensure that your parents have designated a healthcare power of attorney and a financial power of attorney.

My mother had a stroke and is unable to make decisions for herself. What are my options?

If your mother has not designated a healthcare power of attorney or created an advance directive, your next best option is to petition the courts for guardianship over your mother. You will need to prove to the court that your mother lacks the capacity to make decisions on her own and that you are qualified to do so. If guardianship is granted, you will have the same powers over your mother’s healthcare (and likely, finances) as you would over a minor child. This is also a good time to ensure that you have designated a healthcare power of attorney and created an advance directive to ensure your needs are taken care of when the time comes.

Does my father’s power of attorney have the right to keep his medical information from the rest of the family?

No family is perfect. There are always certain dynamics that contribute to strife, especially when an elderly parent is concerned. If your father’s power of attorney is keeping you out of the loop on healthcare matters, the truth is, they have every right to. They alone have the authority to determine who has access to your father’s medical records. If you believe your father’s power of attorney is not acting in your father’s best interests, you may file a petition with the court to have that power of attorney removed.

The laws regarding healthcare powers of attorney and other estate-planning matters differ from state-to-state. If you have questions about these issues, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.

Resources:

ElderLawAnswers. (Accessed November 29, 2019) https://www.elderlawanswers.com/questions-and-answers/Health%20Care%20Decisions

A Place for Mom. “10 Essential Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents” (Accessed November 29, 2019)  https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/essential-questions-for-aging-parents/

AARP. “Haven’t Done A Will Yet?” (Accessed November 29, 2019)  https://www.aarp.org/money/investing/info-2017/half-of-adults-do-not-have-wills.html

 

Top 6 Questions (and Answers) about Conservatorships and Guardianships

What is a Guardian?

When someone becomes incapacitated due to illness, injury or disability, the court appoints a guardian to handle healthcare and certain non-financial decisions for that person. A guardian can be anyone over the age of 18, but must also be able to show that they are qualified to make these decisions for their loved one.  A guardian is not necessarily the person who is the caregiver over the incapacitated individual. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney who can discuss this with you.

What is a Conservator?

A Conservator is appointed by the court to make financial decisions for an incapacitated person. In some states, those who are appointed “conservator of the estate” are those who make financial decisions. Those who are appointed “Conservator of the person” handle the same issues as a “guardian.” Conservators can be expensive, as is the process to obtain one. There is also the potential that the incapacitated individual may be taken advantage of. To avoid a Conservatorship, designate a power of attorney for your financial and medical care. You should always speak with an experienced estate planning attorney who can explain this process to you should you think you need one.

Does my elderly loved one need a guardian

If your family member is unable to make healthcare decisions on her own, due to an injury following an accident, an illness, or disability, and she has not designated a healthcare power of attorney, she will need a guardian.

When is a Conservator more appropriate than a Guardian?

In some cases, someone may be perfectly capable of making her own healthcare decisions, but are unable to manage her finances. In this case, a Conservator would be more appropriate. If an individual cannot make financial or healthcare decisions, both may be appropriate.

Who does the court appoint as Guardian or Conservator?

A court will appoint the person it deems most competent to fill the role of conservator or guardian. In general, the person must be over the age of 18. The court’s first choice is a spouse, or other close family member. If none of those is available or is unwilling to serve, then they may consider extended family or friends. If those are unwilling or unavailable, then the court will appoint a neutral third party, such as an attorney, to act as Conservator or Guardian.

How do I relinquish Guardianship over my wife?

To relinquish Guardianship over any loved one, you must go to court and petition to do so. It is best if you have someone else in mind to take over when you submit your petition to ensure your loved one’s needs are met.

Whether you are considering a Guardianship or Conservatorship for a loved one, it is important to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney who can discuss these important concepts and filings with you.

Resources:

ElderLawAnswers. (Accessed November 29, 2019) https://www.elderlawanswers.com/questions-and-answers/Guardianship/Conservatorship

LawHelp.org. (Accessed November 29, 2019) https://www.lawhelp.org/dc/resource/guardianship-and-conservatorship-frequently-a

 

How Do I Avoid Unintentionally Disinheriting a Family Member?

When an account owner dies, their assets go directly to beneficiaries named on the account. This bypasses and overrides the will or trust. Therefore, you should use care in coordinating your overall estate plan. You don’t want the wrong person ending up with the financial benefits.

The News-Enterprise recent article, “Don’t accidentally leave your estate to the wrong person,” tells the story of the widower who remarried after the death of his first wife. Because he didn’t change his IRA beneficiary form, at his death, his second wife was left out. She received no money from the IRA, and the retirement money went to his first wife, the named beneficiary. Many types of accounts have beneficiary forms, like U.S. savings bonds, bank accounts, certificates of deposit that can be made payable on death, investment accounts that are set-up as transfer on death, life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts.

Remember that beneficiary designations don’t carry over, when you roll your 401(k) to a new plan or IRA. You can name as your beneficiaries individuals, trusts, charities, organizations, your estate, or no one at all. You can name groups, like “all my living grandchildren who survive me.” However, be certain that the beneficiary form lets you to pass assets “per stirpes,” meaning, equally among the branches of your family. For example, say you’re leaving your life insurance to your four children. One predeceases you. Without the “per stirpes” clause, the remaining three remaining children would divide the death proceeds. With the “per stirpes” clause, the deceased child’s share would pass to the late child’s children (your grandchildren).

Don’t leave assets to minors outright, because it creates the process of having a court appointed guardian care for the assets, until the age of 18 in most states. Instead, you might create trusts for the minor heirs, have the trust as the beneficiary of the assets, and then have the trust pay the money to heirs over time, after they have reached legal age or another milestone.

You should also not name disabled individuals as beneficiaries, because it can cause them to lose their government benefits. Instead, ask your estate planning attorney about creating a special needs or supplemental needs trust. This preserves their ability to continue to receive the government benefits.

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

 

Why Shouldn’t I Delay Making Big Gifts?

The unified federal estate and gift tax exemption for 2020 will jump up to $11.58 million or effectively $23.160 million for married couples.

Market Watch’s recent article, “Get your estate plan in order (this means you),”says that, despite these huge big exemptions and the fact you’re not currently exposed to the federal estate tax, your estate plan may still need updating to reflect the current tax rules.

You may be exposed to the federal estate tax in the future, even though you’re okay right now.

Let’s look at some issues, regardless of whether or you’re “rich” enough to be worried about exposure to the federal estate tax. Year-end is a good time to conduct your estate planning self-check, so let’s get started.

Update beneficiary designations. A will or living trust doesn’t override the beneficiary designations for life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other types of investment accounts. This includes accounts, such as life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, other tax-favored retirement accounts and employer-sponsored benefit plans. The person(s) named on the most-recent beneficiary form will get the money automatically if you die, regardless of what your will or living trust document might state.

Designate secondary beneficiaries. Designate one or more secondary (contingent) beneficiaries to inherit, if the primary beneficiary dies before you do. Consider this possibility.

Update property titles. If you’re married and own property with your spouse as joint tenants with right of survivorship (JTWROS), the surviving spouse will automatically get sole ownership of the property when the other spouse dies. The major advantage of JTWROS ownership is that it avoids probate. The property automatically goes to the surviving joint tenant.

Name guardians. One of the main purposes of a will, is to designate a guardian for your minor children (if any). The guardians must care for your children, until they reach adulthood.

Any life event could require changes in your estate plan. In addition, the federal and estate and gift tax rules have been unpredictable in the past, along with the state death tax rules. Talk with your estate planning attorney today.

Reference: Market Watch (November 11, 2019) “Get your estate plan in order (this means you)”

 

What’s Everything I Need to Know About Wills?

Writing a will is a critical part of estate planning. A will contains your legally binding directions for the distribution of your property and responsibilities, when you pass away.

Like the title says, Money Check’s recent article, “Guide to Writing a Will: Everything You Need to Consider,” sets it all out—from soup to nuts.

Do it myself or hire an experienced estate planning attorney? It’s wiser to hire a qualified estate planning attorney to help you draft your will. There are many heartbreaking stories of people who decided to do it by themselves and missed important steps. If that’s the case, the probate judge will not recognize the will and will take control of the estate. Don’t let this happen to your family. Use a legal professional.

Name Your Heirs. List all of the people you want to include in your will. You can omit or include anyone you want. If you do want to leave out a certain family member, be sure you clearly indicate that in the will. You don’t have to explain why you decided to include or exclude family members from your will.

Name an Executor.  Select your attorney or a close family member as the executor.

Select a Guardian for your Children. Name a responsible and willing guardian for your minor children. You should also be sure to discuss your decision with the potential guardian.

Be Clear on the Assets Beneficiaries are to Receive. Avoid vagueness or questions in your will. Clearly explain who gets what. This will help avoid confusion and disputes among family. A thoroughly crafted will prevents stressful and upsetting situations from happening to your family, after your passing.

Include Your Final Wishes with the Will. You can leave your will and a final letter to your family with your executor. This is also called a letter of last instruction.

Get Your Witnesses. When you’re ready to sign your will, be sure to sign it in the presence of a notary public (your estate planning attorney). get a witness (or two depending on your state’s laws) of legal age, over 18-years old and not a family member or relative, to sign the documents.

Keep Your Will Somewhere Safe and Accessible. Store your will in a safe place, where your family can get to it when you die.

Reference: Money Check (October 23, 2019) “Guide to Writing a Will: Everything You Need to Consider”

 

What are the Biggest Estate Planning Errors to Avoid?

Nobody likes to plan for events like aging, incapacity, or death. However, failing to do so can cause families burdens and grief, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.

Fox Business’ recent article, “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid,” says that planning for life’s unexpected events is critical. However, it can often be a hard process to navigate. Let’s look at the top estate planning mistakes to avoid, according to industry experts:

  1. Failing to sign a will (or one that can be located). The biggest mistake is simply not having a will. Estate planning is critically important to protect you, your family and your hard-earned assets—during your lifetime, in the event of your incapacity, and upon your death. We all need estate planning, no matter the amount of assets you have. In addition to having a will it needs to be findable. The Wall Street Journal says that the biggest estate planning error is simply losing a will. Make sure your family has access to your estate planning documents and you name the estate planning attorney who prepared the documents for you. The attorney may have more information on your loved one that you think.
  2. Failing to name and update beneficiaries. An asset with a beneficiary designation supersedes any terms in a will. Review your 401(k), IRA, life insurance, and any other accounts with beneficiaries after any significant life event. If you don’t have the proper beneficiary designations, income tax on retirement accounts may have to be paid sooner. This may lead to increased income tax liability and the designation of a beneficiary on a life insurance policy can affect whether the proceeds are subject to creditors’ claims.

There’s another mistake that impacts people with minor children which is naming a guardian for minor children and then naming that person as beneficiary of their life insurance instead of leaving it to a trust for the child. A minor child can’t receive that money. It also exposes the money to the beneficiary’s creditors and spouse.

  1. Failing to consider powers of attorney for adult children. When your children reach age 18, they are adults in the eyes of the law. If something unfortunate happens to them, you may be left without any say in their treatment. In the event that an 18-year-old becomes ill or has an accident, a hospital won’t consult with their parents if a power of attorney for health care isn’t in place. Unless a power of attorney for property is signed, a parent may not be able to take care of bills, make investment decisions and pay taxes without the child’s signature. This could create an issue when your child is in college—especially if he or she is attending school abroad. It is very important that when your child turns 18 that you have powers of attorney put into place. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney and get a power of attorney prepared.

Reference: Fox Business (October 15, 2019) “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid”

 

Why A Health Care Power of Attorney Makes Sense

Having a Health Care Power of Attorney (Health Care Proxy) in place before it is needed, is one of the best ideas of estate planning, along with having a Durable Power of Attorney in place before it is needed. Why? This is because taking a pro-active approach to both of these documents means that when the unexpected occurs and that is exactly how things occur—unexpectedly—the person or persons you have named for these important roles will be able to step in quickly and made decisions.

Time is often of the essence, when these documents are needed.

According to the article “Medical guardianship versus power of attorney” from The News Enterprise, a health care power of attorney or health care proxy is a document that grants another person the power to make medical decisions for you, when you no longer have the ability to make those decisions for yourself. It is known by a few other names, depending on the state where you live: a medical power of attorney or a health care surrogate.

It needs to have HIPAA-compliant language, which will allow the person you name the ability to review medical information and discuss protected health information with your health care providers.

A health care power of attorney may also include language for an advance medical directive which gives instructions for end-of-life decisions. This is often called a “living will,” and is your legal right to reject medical treatment, decisions about feeding tubes and the number of doctors required to determine the probability of recovery and pain management.

A health care power of attorney does not generally empower another person to make decisions until you are unable to do so. Unlike a general durable power of attorney which permits another person to make financial or business decisions with you while you are living, as long as you are able to understand your medical situation, you are still in charge of your medical decisions.

A guardianship is completely different from these documents. A guardian may only be appointed if a judge or jury finds you wholly or partially disabled in such a way that you cannot manage your own finances or your health. The appointment of a guardian is a big deal. Once someone has been appointed your guardian, you do not have any legal right to make decisions for yourself.  A court will also appoint a legal fiduciary, who will make your financial decisions.

There are record-keeping requirements with a guardianship that do not exist for a power of attorney. The court-appointed representative is responsible for reporting to the court any actions that they have taken on your behalf.

To have power of attorney documents executed, the person must be capable of understanding what they are signing. This means that someone receiving a diagnosis of dementia needs to have these documents prepared as soon as they learn that their capacity will diminish in the near future.

If the documents are not prepared and executed in a timely fashion, a guardianship proceeding may be the only option. Planning in advance is the best way to ensure that the people you trust are the ones making decisions for you. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney now to have these documents in place.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Oct. 13, 2019) “Medical guardianship versus power of attorney”