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How Do I Plan for a Blended Family?

A blended family (or stepfamily) can be thought of as the result of two or more people forming a life together (married or not) that includes children from one or both of their previous relationships, says The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a recent article, “You’re in love again, but consider the legal and financial issues before it’s too late.”

Research from the Pew Research Center study reveals a high remarriage rate for those 55 and older—67% between the ages 55 and 64 remarry. Some of the high remarriage percentage may be due to increasing life expectancies or the death of a spouse. In addition, divorces are increasing for older people who may have decided that, with the children grown, they want to go their separate ways.

It’s important to note that although 50% of first marriages end in divorce, that number jumps to 67% of second marriages and 80% of third marriages end in divorce.

So if you’re remarrying, you should think about starting out with a prenuptial agreement. This type of agreement is made between two people prior to marriage. It sets out rights to property and support, in case there’s a divorce or death. Both parties must reveal their finances. This is really helpful, when each may have different income sources, assets and expenses.

You should discuss whose name will be on the deed to your home, which is often the asset with the most value, as well as the beneficiary designations of your life insurance policies, 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts.

It is also important to review the agents under your health care directives and financial powers of attorney. Ask yourself if you truly want your stepchildren in any of these agent roles, which may include “pulling the plug” or ending life support.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about these important documents that you’ll need, when you say “I do” for the second (or third) time.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (February 24, 2019) “You’re in love again, but consider the legal and financial issues before it’s too late”

When Was the Last Time You Talked with Your Estate Planning Attorney?

If you haven’t had a talk with your estate planning attorney since before the TCJA act went into effect, now would be a good time to do so, says The Kansas City Star in the article “Talk to estate attorney about impacts of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” While most of the news about the act centered on the increased exemptions for estate taxes, there are a number of other changes that may have a direct impact on your taxes.

Start by looking at any wills or trusts that were created before the tax act went into effect. If any of the trusts use formulas that are tied to the federal estate tax exemption, there could be unintended consequences because of the higher exemption amounts.

The federal estate tax exemption doubled from $5.49 million per person in 2017 to $11.18 million per person in 2018 (or $22.36 million per couple). It is now $11.2 million per person in 2019 (or $22.4 million per couple).

Let’s say that your trust was created in 2001, when the estate tax exemption was a mere $675,000. Your trust may have stipulated that your children receive the amount of assets that could be passed free from federal estate tax, and the remainder, which exceeded the federal estate tax exemption, goes to your spouse. At the time, this was a perfectly good strategy. However, if it hasn’t been updated since then, your children will receive $11.4 million and your spouse could be disinherited.

Trusts drafted prior to 2011, when portability was introduced, require particular attention.

Two other important factors to consider are portability and step-up of cost basis. In the past, many couples relied on the use of bypass or credit shelter trusts that pay income to the surviving spouse and then eventually pass trust assets on to the children, upon the death of the surviving spouse. This scenario made sure to use the first deceased spouse’s estate exemption.

However, new legislation passed in 2011 allowed for portability of the deceased spouse’s unused estate exemption. The surviving spouse’s estate can now use any exemption that wasn’t used by the first spouse to die.

A step-up in basis was not changed by the TCJA law, but this has more significance now. When a person dies, their heir’s cost basis of many assets becomes the value of the asset on the date that the person died. Highly appreciated assets that avoided income taxes to the decedent, could avoid or minimize income taxes to the heirs. Maintaining the ability for assets to receive a step-up in basis is more important now, because of the size of the federal estate tax exemption.

Beneficiaries who inherit assets from a bypass or credit shelter trust upon the surviving spouse’s death, no longer benefit from a “second” step-up in basis. The basis of the inheritance is the original basis from the first spouse’s death. Therefore, bypass trusts are less useful than in the past, and could actually have negative income tax consequences for heirs.

If your current estate plan has not been amended for these or other changes, make an appointment soon to speak with a qualified estate planning attorney. It may not take a huge overhaul of the entire estate plan, but these changes could have a negative impact on your family and their future.

Reference: The Kansas City Star (Feb. 7, 2019) “Talk to estate attorney about impacts of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”

How Your Caregiver Can Get Paid and Treated Fairly

Many older Americans can live at home instead of in a nursing home, if they receive adequate caregiving services. “Consumer-directed care” programs in some states provide funds to pay for family caregivers. These programs can cost the state and federal government less money than long-term care facilities. Seniors get to continue living in the home they love. On the surface, this arrangement sounds perfect, yet the caregivers often experience surprising problems with other family members and the parents they are trying to help.

The adult child who serves as the primary caregiver frequently does so at great financial sacrifice, having to quit her job or work fewer hours to take the parent to doctor appointments and dress, groom, and feed the parent. Siblings of the caregiver sometimes resent the fact that the person providing the care gets paid by the government, even though it is a modest wage. Here are some tips on how your caregiver can get paid and treated fairly, while avoiding family conflict.

Communicate. The caregiver, care recipient and other family members should have a candid conversation about the arrangement before taking the leap. Once siblings realize the government red tape required and the small amount of compensation the caregiver will receive, they will be less likely to cause problems.

In some families, however, the existing dynamic is not a good fit for a paid caregiver arrangement. In these situations, the parent might treat the caregiver like a servant, damaging the parent-child relationship. Siblings might refuse to pitch in at all with helping the parents, even though the nominal salary is grossly inadequate to cover round-the-clock care. Some caregivers also might treat the parents or siblings unfairly, once they start collecting an income for providing care.

Decide if the caregiver salary is worth it. In some situations, the caregiver might find that the little bit of income is not worth the family squabbles and being treated like a second-class citizen. Some caregivers reach their breaking point and go back to their previous jobs that often paid more money and provided benefits. In these instances, the parent will likely have to move into a nursing home. Many families do not appreciate the caregiver’s work, until the situation gets to this level. By then it is too late to undo the harm.

This advice is a cautionary tale for older parents, whose children serve as their caregivers. Once the adult child starts getting paid for his work, the parent might start to mistreat him, barking orders and making unreasonable demands. Seniors should understand that the consequences of such actions can include being moved into a nursing home.

If your state has programs that pay family members to provide caregiving services, your parent might be able to delay the nursing home and the caregiver can get some respect and pay for doing these valuable activities. To make sure that everyone gets treated fairly, the family needs to have a family meeting, discuss the details openly and set clear boundaries and expectations.

You should talk with a nearby elder law attorney about whether your state’s regulations vary from the general law of this article.

References:

AARP. “Getting Compensated for Caregiving Can Change Family Dynamics.” (accessed February 14, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/home-care/info-2019/compensation-family-dynamics.html

Using Trusts to Maintain Control of Inheritances

Trusts, like estate plans, are not just for the wealthy. They are used to provide control, in how assets of any size are passed to another person. Leaving an inheritance to a beneficiary in a trust, according to the article from Times Herald-Record titled “Leaving inheritances to trusts puts you in control,” can protect the inheritance and the asset from being mishandled.

For many parents, the inheritance equation is simple. They leave their estate to their children “per stirpes,” which in Latin translates to “by roots.” In other words, the assets are left to children according to the roots of the family tree. The assets go to the children, but if they predecease you, the assets go to their children. The assets remain in the family. If the child dies after the parent, they leave the inheritance to their spouse.

An alternative is to create inheritance trusts for children. They may spend the money as they wish, but any remaining assets goes to their children (your grandchildren) and not to the surviving spouse of your child. The grandchildren won’t gain access to the money, until you so provide. However, someone older, a trustee, may spend the money on them for their health, education and general welfare. The inheritance trust also protects the assets from any divorces, lawsuits or creditors.

This is also a good way for parents, who are concerned about the impact of their wealth on their children, to maintain some degree of control. One strategy is a graduated payment plan. A certain amount of money is given to the child at certain ages, often 20% when they reach 35, half of the remainder at age 40 and the balance at age 45. Until distributions are made to the heirs, a trustee may use the money for the person’s benefit at the trustee’s discretion.

The main concern is that money not be wasted by spendthrift heirs. In that situation, a spendthrift trust restricts payments to or for the beneficiary and may only be used at the trustee’s discretion. A lavish lifestyle won’t be funded by the trust.

If money is being left to a disabled individual who receives government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may need a Special Needs Trust. The trustee can pay for services or items for the beneficiary directly, without affecting government benefits. The beneficiary may not receive any money directly.

If an older person is a beneficiary, you also have the option to leave them an “income only trust.” They have no right to receive any of the trust’s principal. If the beneficiary requires nursing home care and must apply for Medicaid, the principal is protected from nursing home costs.

An estate planning attorney will be able to review your family’s situation and determine which type of trust would be best for your family.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Feb. 16, 2019) “Leaving inheritances to trusts puts you in control”

Retiring Business Owners, What’s Going to Happen to Your Business?

When the business owner retires, what happens to employees, clients and family members all depends on what the business owner has planned, asks an article from Florida Today titled “Estate planning for business owners: What happens to your business when you leave?” One task that no business owner should neglect, is planning for what will happen when they are no longer able to run their business, for a variety of reasons.

The challenge is, with no succession plan, the laws of the state will determine what happens next. If you started your own business to have more control over your destiny, then you don’t want to let the laws of your state determine what happens, once you are incapacitated, retired or dead.

Think of your business succession plan as an estate plan for your business. It will determine what happens to your property, who will be in charge of the transition and who will make decisions about whether to keep the business going or to sell it.

Your estate planning attorney will need to review these issues with you:

Control and decision-making. If you are the sole owner, who will make critical decisions in your absence? If there are multiple owners, how will decisions be made? Discuss in advance your vision for the company’s future, and make sure that it’s in writing, executed properly with an attorney’s help.

What about your family and employees? If members of your family are involved in the business, work out who you want to take the leadership reins. Be as objective as possible about your family members. If the business is to be sold, will key employees be given an option of buying out the family interest? You’ll also need a plan to ensure that the business continues in the period between your ownership and the new owner, in order to retain its value.

Plan for changing dynamics. Maybe family members and employees tolerated each other while you are in charge, but if that relationship is not great, make sure plans are enacted so the business will continue to operate, even if years of resentment come spilling out after you die. Your employees may be counting on you to protect them from family members, or your family may be depending upon you to protect them from disgruntled employees or managers. Either way, do what you can in advance to keep everyone moving forward. If the business falls apart the minute you are gone, there won’t be anything to sell or for the next generation to carry on.

How your business is structured, will have an impact on your succession plan. If there are significant liability elements to your business, risk management should also be built into your future plans.

To make your succession plan work, you will need to integrate it with your personal estate plan. If you have a Last Will and Testament in a Florida-based business, the probate judge will appoint someone to run the business, and then the probate court will have administrative control over the business, until it’s sold. That probably isn’t what you had in mind, after your years of working to build a business. Speak with an estate planning attorney to find out what structures will work best, so your business succession plan and your estate plan will work seamlessly without you.

Reference: Florida Today (Feb. 12, 2019) “Estate planning for business owners: What happens to your business when you leave?”

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

If for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, as they squabble over who gets Aunt Nina’s sideboard or Uncle Bruno’s collection of baseball cards, everyone needs a will. It is true that having an estate plan created does require us to consider what we want to happen after we have died, which most of us would rather not think about.

However, whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place, and that includes a will, is a gift of peace we give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight, when they don’t have clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept their own mortality, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a sequence that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

Parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not, and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care, while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will lets you decide.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Having these plans made before you need them, gives you the ability to express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced.

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

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. Failing to plan for your eventual death by preparing a will—especially as a parent—can result in issues for your loved ones. 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”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Letter of Last Instruction, Probate Court, Inheritance, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Directive, Intestacy, Life Insurance Policy, IRA, 401(k)

Protect A Life of Working and Saving from Long Term Care Costs

Every month, Lawrence Cappiello writes a check to a nursing home for $12,000 to pay for the cost of his wife’s nursing home care. Two years ago, his net worth was $500,000. In less than two years, the Cappiello’s savings will be gone. This unsettling story is explained in the article “How to Keep LTC Costs From Devouring Your Client’s Life Savings” from Insurance News Net. He is suffering from nursing home sticker shock and says he should have known better.

Cappiello was a professor at the University of Buffalo for 25 years. During that time, he taught an introductory course on health care and human services that touched on the costs to consumers. He said it was clear even then, that the cost of health care was going to escalate out of control.

To qualify for Medicaid payments of nursing home care in New York State, residents are permitted to own no more than $15,450 in nonexempt assets. However, elder lawyers, whose practices focus on these exact issues, say that the way to protect the family’s assets, is to take steps years before nursing home care is needed. Some general recommendations:

  • Signing over the deed of the home to children or any others who would otherwise inherit it from you in a will. The transaction would need to stipulate that you have life use of the home.
  • Establishing an irrevocable trust, that upon death, transfers the house to the beneficiaries. There must be language that ensures that you have life use of the house.
  • Giving away savings and other financial assets.

Transfers of any assets must take place more than five years before applying for Medicaid nursing home coverage. If they have been given away or transferred within the five year “look-back” period, then there is a chance that they may still qualify, or they may have to wait five years.

That is why planning with an experienced elder law attorney is so critical for families, especially when one of the spouses is facing a known illness that will get worse with time. There are steps that can be taken, but they must be done in a timely manner.

Many older people are not exactly jumping with joy at the idea of handing over their assets, even when relationships with adult children are good. The idea of giving up assets and the family home is a marker of the passage of time and the inevitability of death. These are not things that we enjoy considering. However, taking these steps in advance, can make a huge difference in the quality of the well spouse’s life.

It should be noted that a sick spouse can move assets to a healthy spouse, to make the sick spouse lawfully poor and eligible for Medicaid. There is no look back period or penalty for interspousal transfers. This sounds like a very simple solution. However, these are complex matters that need the help of an experienced attorney. If it were so easy, countless spouses would not be facing their own impoverishment because of an ill spouse.

Reference: Insurance News Net (Feb. 4, 2019) “How to Keep LTC Costs From Devouring Your Client’s Life Savings”

Should I Put My Firearms in a “Gun Trust”?

If you’re a gun collector, while you likely have heard the term “gun trust,” you may not know what it is, how it works or how it can be of use in an estate plan.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Own a Gun? Careful: You Might Need a Gun Trust,” explains that a gun trust is the common name for a revocable or irrevocable management trust, that’s created to take title to firearms.

Revocable trusts are used more often, because they can be changed during the lifetime of the grantor.

While it’s true that any legally owned weapon can be placed into a gun trust, these trusts are specifically used for weapons that are classified under the National Firearms Act (NFA) Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968. These include Title II weapons, such as a fully automatic machine gun, a short-barreled shotgun and a suppressor (“silencer”).

What is an important reason why a gun trust may be a component of an estate plan? When the grantor owns Title II weapons, the transport and transfer of ownership of such heavily regulated firearms can easily be a felony, without the owner or heir even realizing he or she is breaking the law.

A gun trust provides for an orderly transfer of the weapon upon the death of the grantor to a family member or other heir. However, that transferee is required to submit to a background check and identification process, before taking possession of the firearm.

An NFA Title II weapon, like a suppressor, can only be used by the person to whom it’s registered. Therefore, allowing a friend or family member to fire a few rounds with a Title II weapon at the local range is a felony! A gun trust can be used to allow for the use of the Title II weapon by multiple parties. Each party who will have access to and use of the weapon, should be a co-trustee of the gun trust and must go through the same required background check and identification requirements.

An owner of a large collection of firearms may find it easier to transfer ownership of his or her weapons to a gun trust, even if the person doesn’t own any Title II weapons. There are several benefits to doing this, such as protecting your privacy, allowing for the disposition of your collection and addressing the possibility of incapacitation. A gun trust can also ease the process for your heirs. You don’t want to run afoul of the complex laws regarding the use and ownership of firearms, especially Title II firearms. Leaving a large collection of Title I weapons—or even a single Title II weapon—in an estate to be dealt with by an executor or trustee, can be extremely troublesome. Fortunately, it’s avoidable with the use of a gun trust.

Speak to an estate planning attorney who has experience and understands the federal and state laws on the ownership and transfer requirements of all firearms.

Reference: Kiplinger (February 6, 2019) “Own a Gun? Careful: You Might Need a Gun Trust”

How Do I Prepare my Parents for Alzheimer’s?

Can your mom just sell her house, despite her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s?

The (Bryan TX) Eagle reports in the recent article “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents” that the concept of “mental capacity” is complicated. There’s considerable confusion about incapacity. The article explains that different legal documents have a different degree of required capacity. The bar for signing a Power of Attorney, a Warranty Deed, a Contract, a Divorce Decree, or a Settlement Agreement is a little lower than for signing a Will. The individual signing legal documents must be capable of understanding and appreciating what he or she is signing, as well as the effect of the document.

The answer the question of whether the mom can sign the deed to her house over to the buyer.  is likely “yes.” She must understand that she’s selling her house, and that, once the document is signed, the house will belong to someone else. A terminal diagnosis or a neurodegenerative disease doesn’t automatically mean that an individual can’t sign legal documents. A case-by-case assessment is required to see if the document will be valid.

The fact that a person is unable to write his or her name doesn’t mean they lack capacity. If a senior can’t sign her name (possibly due to tremors or neurodegeneration), she can sign with an “X”. She could place her hand on top of someone else’s and allow the other person to sign her name. If this is completed before witnesses and the notary, that would be legal.

A hard part of Alzheimer’s is that a person’s mental clarity can come and go. Capacity can be fluid in the progress of a neurodegenerative or other terminal disease. Because of this, the best time to sign critical documents is sooner rather than later. No one can say the “window of capacity” will remain open for a certain amount of time.

Some signs should prompt you to move more quickly. These include things like the following:

  • Short-term memory loss;
  • Personality changes (e.g., unusual anger);
  • Confusing up or forgetting common-usage words and names; and
  • Disorientation and changes in depth perception.

Any of the signs above could be caused by dementia or many other problems. Talk to your parent’s physician and an elder law attorney. He or she can discuss the options, document your parent’s legal capacity, and get the right documents drafted quickly.

Reference: The (Bryan TX) Eagle (February 7, 2019) “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents”