Legacy Planning Law Group
Weekly Blog

Estate & Elder Law

Protect Your Family. Preserve Your Legacy

If you’re interested in learning more about our process and the solution for you and your family, please book your free 15-minute call with us today!

Do Name Changes Need to Be Made in Estate Planning Documents?

When names change, executing documents with the person’s prior name can become problematic. For example, what about a daughter who was named as a health care representative by her parents several years ago, who marries and changes her name? Then, to make matters more complicated, add the fact that the couple’s daughter-in-law has the same first name, but a different middle name. That’s the situation presented in the article “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan” from nwi.com.

When a person’s name changes, many documents need to be changed, including items like driver’s licenses, passports, insurance policies, etc. So do your estate planning documents. The change of a name isn’t just about the person who created the estate plan but also to their executors, heirs, beneficiaries and those who have been named with certain legal powers through power of attorney (POA) and health care power of attorney.

It’s not an unusual situation, but it does have to be addressed. It’s pretty common to include additional identifiers in the estate planning documents. For example, let’s say the will says I leave my house to my daughter Samantha Roberts. If Samantha gets married and changes her last name, it can be reasonably assumed that she can be identified. In some cases, the document may be able to stay the same.

In other instances, the difference will be incorporated through the use of the acronym AKA—Also Known As. That is used when a person’s name is different for some reason. If the deed to a home says Mary Green, but the person’s real name is Mary G. Jones, the term used will be Mary Green A/K/A Mary G. Jones.

Sometimes when a person’s name has changed completely, another acronym is use: N/K/A, or Now Known As. For example, if Jessica A. Gordon marries or divorces and changes her name to Jessica A. Jones, the phrase Jessica A. Gordon N/K/A Jessica A. Jones would be used.

However, in the situation noted above, most attorneys to want to have the estate planning documents changed to reflect the name change. First, there are two people in the family with similar names. It is possible that someone could claim that the person wished to name the other person. It may not be a strong case, but challenges have been made over smaller matters.

Second is that the estate planning document being discussed is a healthcare designation. Usually when a health care power of attorney form is being used, it’s in an emergency. Would a doctor make a daughter prove that she is who she says she is? It seems unlikely, but the risk of something like that happening is too great. It is much easier to simply have the document updated.

In most matters, when there is a name change, it’s not a big deal. However, in estate planning documents, where there are risks about being able to make decisions in a timely manner or to mitigate the possibility of an estate challenge, a name change to update documents is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of trouble in the future.

Making changes to your estate plan is easy.

Reference: nwi.com (October 20, 2019) “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan”

Medicaid Planning

Dark Side of Medicaid Means You Need Estate Planning

A woman in Massachusetts, age 62, is living in her family’s home on borrowed time. Her late father did all the right things: saving to buy a home and then buying a life-insurance policy to satisfy the mortgage on his passing, with the expectation that he had secured the family’s future. However, as reported in the article “Medicaid’s Dark Secret” in The Atlantic, after the father died and the mother needed to live in a nursing home as a consequence of Alzheimer’s, the legacy began to unravel.

Just weeks after her mother entered the nursing home, her daughter received a notice that MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, had placed a lien on the house. She called MassHealth; her mother had been a longtime employee of Boston Public Schools and there were alternatives. She wanted her mother taken off Medicaid. The person she spoke to at MassHealth said not to worry. If her mother came out of the nursing home, the lien would be removed, and her mother could continue to receive benefits from Medicaid.

The daughter and her husband moved to Massachusetts, took their mother out of the nursing home and cared for her full-time. They also fixed up the dilapidated house. To do so, they cashed in all of their savings bonds, about $100,000. They refinished the house and paid off the two mortgages their mother had on the house.

Her husband then began to show signs of dementia. Now, the daughter spent her days and nights caring for both her mother and her husband.

After her mother died, she received a letter from the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees MassHealth, notifying her that the state was seeking reimbursement from the estate for $198,660. She had six months to pay the debt in full, and after that time, she would be accruing interest at 12%. The state could legally force her to sell the house and take its care of proceeds to settle the debt. Her husband had entered the final stages of Alzheimer’s.

Despite all her calls to officials, none of whom would help, and her own research that found that there were in fact exceptions for adult child caregivers, the state rejected all of her requests for help. She had no assets, little income, and no hope.

State recovery for Medicaid expenditures became mandatory, as part of a deficit reduction law signed by President Bill Clinton. Many states resisted instituting the process, even going to court to defend their citizens. The federal government took a position that federal funds for Medicaid would be cut if the states did not comply. However, other states took a harder line, some even allowing pre-death liens, taking interest on past-due debts or limiting the number of hardship waivers. The law gave the states the option to expand recovery efforts, including medical expenses, and many did, collecting for every doctor’s visit, drug, and surgery covered by Medicaid.

Few people are aware of estate recovery. It’s disclosed in the Medicaid enrollment forms but buried in the fine print. It’s hard for a non-lawyer to know what it means. When it makes headlines, people are shocked and dismayed. During the rollout of the Obama administration’s Medicaid expansion, more people became aware of the fine print. At least three states passed legislation to scale back recovery policies after public outcry.

The Medicaid Recovery program is a strong reason for families to meet with an elder law attorney and make a plan. Assets can be placed in irrevocable trusts, or deeds can be transferred to family members. There are many strategies to protect families from estate recovery. This issue should be on the front burner of anyone who owns a home, or other assets, who may need to apply for Medicaid at some point in the future. Avoiding probate is one part of estate planning, avoiding Medicaid recovery is another.

Since the laws are state-specific, consult an elder law attorney in your state.

Read here about Medicaid planning.

Reference: The Atlantic (October 2019) “Medicaid’s Dark Secret”

Joint Tenancy With Children Creates Problems for Parents

Parents putting children or other family members as joint owners of their assets. is another example of a simple solution for a complex problem. Joint tenancy doesn’t work, even though it seems as if it should.

As explained in the article “Beware the joint tenancy trap” from Monterey Herald, putting another person on an account, even a trusted child or life-long friend, can create serious problems for the individual, their estate and their heirs. Before going down that path, there are several issues to consider.

When another individual is placed as an owner on an account or on the title to real property, they have a legal ownership in that property equal to that of the original owner. This is called joint tenancy. If a child is made a joint tenant on a parent’s accounts, they would be entirely within their rights to withdraw every single asset from those accounts and do whatever they wanted with them. They would not need the original owner’s consent, counsel, or knowledge.

Giving anyone that power is a serious decision.

Making a child a joint owner of assets also exposes those assets to claims by the child’s creditors. If they file for bankruptcy, the original asset owner may have to buy back one-half of the asset at its current market value. Another example: if the child is in an accident and a judgment is recorded against the child, you may have to buy back one-half of your joint tenant property at its current market value to settle the claims.

There are other complications. If one joint owner of the asset dies, joint tenancy provides for the right of survivorship. The property transfers to the surviving joint tenant without going through probate and with no reference to a will. That’s what people focus on when they try this method as an end-run around estate planning. What they don’t realize, is that if the parent dies and the asset transfers directly to the joint tenant—let’s say a daughter—but the will says the assets are to be split between all of the children, her claim on the asset is “senior” to the rest of the children. That means she gets the assets and the four siblings split the remaining assets.

If there is any friction between siblings, not having equal inheritances could create a fracture in the family that can’t easily be resolved.

Tax exposure is another risk of joint tenancy. When someone is named a joint owner, they have an equal ownership interest in those assets, as the original owner’s cost basis. When one owner dies, the remaining owner gets a step up in basis on the proportion of the assets the deceased person owned at death.

Let’s say a son and father are joint owners on an account. When the father dies, the son gets a step up in basis on one-half of the assets—the assets that the father owned. His half of the assets retains the original basis. But if that account was owned solely by the father, all the heirs will get the full step up in basis on the father’s death.

Given the complexities that joint tenancy creates, parents need to think very carefully before putting children’s names on their assets and real property. A better plan is to make an appointment to speak with an estate planning attorney and find out how to protect the parent’s assets through other means, which may include trusts and other estate planning tools.

See how joint tenancy creates problems.

Reference: Monterey Herald (Sep. 11, 2019) “Beware the joint tenancy trap”

Estate and Business Succession Planning is Critical

Small Business Owners Need Business Succession and Estate Planning

For the entrepreneurial-minded person, nothing beats the excitement of having a vision for a business, and then making that dream come true. However, have you ever wondered what will happen to that business after you are gone? Business succession planning and personal estate planning are critical.

A comprehensive estate plan, says Bakersfield.com, in the recent article “Estate planning tips for small business owners,” provides a plan that can protect your life’s work.

It makes sense. You’ve likely spent decades building your business throughout your working life. You’re proud of what you have accomplished, and you should be. You should then protect it with a well-thought-out plan. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you design a two-pronged plan for your business and your personal life. For business owners, these two are intertwined.

Can you avoid taxes? Reviewing your personal and business assets, as part of an estate plan, is the best way to minimize the tax exposure of your estate and facilitate an organized sale or succession plan for your business. You can’t completely avoid taxes, but good planning will help them from being excessive.

There are a number of IRS sections that can help, and your estate planning attorney will know them. For example, Section 6166 gives your loved ones more time to pay the tax, by paying in ten annual installments. Another Section, 303, lets your family redeem stock with few tax penalties. Talk with your attorney and CPA to find out if your business is eligible for either of these strategies. Create a plan and talk about it in detail with survivors to help them navigate the transition.

Do you have a buy-sell agreement in place? This is critical, if more than one person owns the business. The buy-sell agreement dictates how the partnership or LLC is distributed upon the death or incapacity of one of the owners. Without one, family members may be stuck owning a company they don’t want or don’t know anything about. Alternatively, your former partners may find themselves partnered with people with whom they never intended to go into business.

The buy-sell agreement creates a plan so, when an owner passes, the shares of the company must be bought out by the other owners at a fair market price. The agreement can even establish a sale price, so family members will know exactly what they can expect to receive from the sale. In addition, a buy-sell agreement can be used to block certain individuals from taking a role in the business. For many family businesses, that’s enough of a reason to make sure to have a buy-sell agreement.

How are life insurance policies used by small business owners? Maybe you want the business to die with you. Some small businesses provide a stable income for the owner, but there’s no plan for the business to be passed to another family member or to survive the passing of the owner. If that is your situation, and you want your family to have income, you’ll need a life insurance policy.

A life insurance policy can also be used to help partners with the capital they’ll need to purchase your shares, if that is how your buy-sell agreement has been set up.

As a small business owner and a family breadwinner, you want to be sure your family and your business are prepared for your passing. Talk with your estate planning attorney to make sure both are protected, in the event of your passing.

Learn what might happen to your business if you do not undertake business succession and estate planning.

Reference: Bakersfield.com (July 15, 2019) “Estate planning tips for small business owners”

When Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

When do you need a power of attorney? Always. Without a good durable power of attorney, your loved ones will have to go to court if you become incapacitated.

A power of attorney is a legal document signed by the “Principal,” granting the authority to another individual to make decisions on the Principal’s behalf. This document is only in effect during the lifetime of the Principal.

nj.com’s recent article on this topic asks “Who can sign for an incapacitated person if there’s no power of attorney?” The article noted that to have the authority to conduct financial transactions concerning the assets solely owned by the incapacitated person who failed to execute a power of attorney, a guardian will have to be appointed by the court.

A guardianship is a legal relationship established by the court, in which an individual is given legal authority over another when that person is unable to make safe and sound decisions regarding his or her person, or property.

For example, in New Jersey, an application will have to be filed in the probate part of the Superior Court, in the county where the incapacitated person resides.

If it’s not an emergency, a guardian also will need to be appointed to make medical decisions for an incapacitated person who hasn’t signed a health care proxy. This is a legal document that gives an agent the authority to make health care decisions for an incapacitated person. It will take effect, if the person is incapacitated or unable to communicate. The agent will make decisions that reflect the wishes of the incapacitated individual.

It’s typically not necessary to be appointed as an agent under a power of attorney or health care proxy or legal guardian for another person to sign an assisted living or nursing home admissions contract or a Medicaid application.

However, prior to signing another person’s admissions contract, read the fine print to be certain that you don’t become responsible for the bills!

Learn more about the importance of having a good durable power of attorney in place.

Reference: nj.com (July 22, 2019) “Who can sign for an incapacitated person if there’s no power of attorney?”

Good Estate Planning Avoids Probate

Estate Planning Avoids Probate

It’s too bad that this happened to the Franklin family, but it happens often. A family member dies unexpectedly or becomes incapacitated at a young age and they never did the right planning.  Sometimes worse, they did the right planning, but the documents are decades old, out of step with current laws and the power of attorney is so old, that no financial institution will recognize it. The family gets stuck in the court system with probate.

The problems that these scenarios create for loved ones are stressful, expensive and take a fair amount of everyone’s time. Solutions are offered in the article “Planning for the unexpected–4 Steps to get your affairs in order” from the Post Independent.

These four steps will help make the unexpected events of life a little less challenging.

Have a will and other estate planning documents prepared.

A will is a list of instructions to the court that details how you want your possessions to be distributed after you die. It should be drafted by an estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice law in your home state. The will goes through the probate process, which takes care of your legal and financial matters. In some states, the probate process is a simple process. In others, it can be problematic. Your estate planning attorney will be able to advise you about the probate process in your area.

A revocable living trust is a useful estate planning document that is used to establish more control over your assets, while you are alive. It should also be created by an experienced estate planning attorney. At your death, assets held in your trust then pass to heirs and avoid the probate process.

Make sure you title your assets properly.

Once you have a will and any trusts in place, any assets you wish to have placed in the trust need to be titled correctly. If you own a property with someone else and want to be sure your share of that property goes to the other owner, you’ll need to title it jointly. This will avoid probate.

Don’t forget to review the beneficiary designations that are usually a part of your bank and investment accounts, retirement accounts and insurance policies. Any beneficiary designation will override the will. If you haven’t reviewed beneficiary designations in a long time, now is the time to do so. There is no way to undo a beneficiary designation, once you have died.

Have power of attorney agreements created.

These documents give another person, the “agent,” the power to act on your business, financial and legal affairs, if you are incapacitated. The laws vary from state to state, which is another reason to work with an estate planning attorney licensed in your state. You’ll need these documents:

  • A durable power of attorney
  • A medical durable power of attorney
  • A living will

Prepare a letter of instruction.

This is not a legally binding document, but it can provide loved ones with a great deal of clarity when you have passed. Consider including this information:

  • A list of financial accounts and account numbers and any online usernames and passwords.
  • A list of important documents and where they can be found.
  • The names and contact information for the legal and financial professionals with whom you work.
  • Your final burial and/or funeral wishes.

Once you’re done, review the documents every few years and when there are major events in your life, including births, marriages, divorces, deaths and other “trigger” events. Remember that the laws change, so don’t let too much time go by without a thorough review of your estate plan.

Learn what probate is all about and why it should be avoided.

Reference: Post Independent (July 22, 2019) “Planning for the unexpected–4 Steps to get your affairs in order”

Elder Law Estate Planning for the Future

Seniors who are parents of adult children can make their children’s lives easier, by making the effort to button down major goals in elder law estate planning, advises Times Herald-Record in the article “Three ways for seniors to make things easier for their kids.” Those tasks are planning for disability, protecting assets from long-term care or nursing home costs and minimizing costs and stress in passing assets to the next generation. Here’s what you need to do, and how to do it.

Elder law and disability planning includes signing advance directives. These are legal documents that are created while you still have all of your mental faculties. Naming people who will make decisions on your behalf, if and when you become incapacitated, gives those you love the ability to take care of you without having to apply for guardianship or other legal proceedings. Advance directives include powers of attorney, health care powers or attorney or proxies and living wills.

Your power of attorney will make all and any legal and financial decisions on your behalf. In addition, if you use the elder law power of attorney, they are able to make unlimited gifting powers that may save about half of a single person’s assets from the cost of nursing home care. With a health care proxy, a person is named who can make medical decisions. In a living will, you have the ability to convey your wishes for end-of-life care, including resuscitation and artificial feeding.

When advance directives are in place, you spare your family the need to have a judge appoint a legal guardian to manage your affairs. That saves time, money and keeps the judiciary out of your life. Your children can act on your behalf when they need to, during what will already be a very difficult time.

Goal number two of elder law is protecting assets from the cost of long-term care. Losing the family home and retirement savings to unexpected nursing costs is devasting and may be avoided with the right planning. The first and best option is to purchase long-term care insurance. If you don’t have or can’t obtain a policy, the next best is the Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT) that is used to protect assets in the trust from nursing home costs, after the assets have been in the trust for five years.

The third thing that will make your adult children’s lives easier, is to have a will. This lets you leave assets to the family as you want, with the least amount of court costs, legal fees, taxes and family battles over inheritances. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to have a will created.  If your attorney advises it, you can also consider having trusts created, so your assets can be placed into the trusts and avoid probate, which is a public process. A trust can be easier for children, because estates settle more quickly.

Think of estate planning as part of your legacy of taking care of your family, ensuring that your hard-earned assets are passed to the next generation. You can’t avoid your own death, or that of your spouse, but you can prepare so those you love are helped by thoughtful and proper planning.

Learn the benefits of protecting your assets from the devastating costs of long-term care.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 13, 2019) “Three ways for seniors to make things easier for their kids”

Do You Have a Pet Trust?

Estate planning helps to create a strategy for managing assets while we are living and their distribution when we pass away. That includes determining what happens to our tangible property as well as financial investments, retirement accounts, etc. An estate plan which includes a trust for your pet can also be used to protect the well-being of our beloved companion animals, says The Balance in the article “Estate Planning for Fido: How to Set Up a Pet Trust.”

Pet trusts were once thought of as something only for extremely wealthy or eccentric individuals, but today many ‘regular’ people use pet trusts to ensure that if they die before their pets, their pets will have a secure future.

Every state and the District of Columbia, except for Washington, now has laws governing the creation and use of pet trusts. Knowing how they work and what they can and cannot do will be helpful if you are considering having a pet trust made as part of your estate plan.

When you set up a trust, you are the “grantor.” You have the authority as creator of the trust to direct how you want the assets in the trust to be managed, for yourself and any beneficiaries of the trust. The same principal holds true for pet trusts. You set up the trust and name a trustee. The trustee oversees the money and any other assets placed in the trust for the pet’s benefit. Those funds are to be used to pay for the pet’s care and related expenses. These expenses can include:

  • Regular care by a veterinarian,
  • Emergency veterinarian care,
  • Grooming, and
  • Feeding and boarding costs.

A pet trust can also be used to provide directions for end of life care and treatment for pets, as well as burial or cremation arrangements you may want for your pet.

In most instances, the pet trust, once established, remains in place for the entire life span of the pet. Some states, however, place a time limit on how long the trust can continue. For animals with very long lives, like certain birds or horses, you’ll want to be sure the trust will be created to last for the entire life span of your pet. In several states, the limit is 21 years.

An estate planning attorney who has experience with pet trusts will know the laws of your state, so you’ll be able to create a trust for your pet.

Creating a pet trust is like creating any other type of trust. An estate planning attorney can help with drafting the documents, helping you select a trustee, and if you’re worried about your pet outliving the first trustee, naming any successor trustees.

Here are some things to consider when setting up your pet’s trust:

  • What’s your pet’s current standard of living and care?
  • What kind of care do you expect the pet’s new caregiver to offer?
  • Who do you want to be the pet’s caregiver, and who should be the successor caregivers?
  • How often should the caregiver report on the pet’s status to the trustee?
  • How long you expect the pet to live?
  • How likely your pet is to develop a serious illness?
  • How much money do you think your pet’s caregiver will need to cover all pet-related expenses?
  • What should happen to the money, if any remains in the pet trust, after the pet passes away?

The last item is important if you don’t want any funds to disappear. You might want to have the money split up to your beneficiaries to your will, or you may want to have it donated to charity. The trust for your pet needs to include a contingency plan for these scenarios.

Another point: think about when you want the pet trust to go into effect. You may not expect to become incapacitated, but these things do happen. Your trust can be designed to become effective if you become incapacitated.

Make sure the trust clearly identifies your pet so no one can abuse its terms and access trust funds fraudulently. One way to do this is to have your pet microchipped and record the chip number in the documents. Also include photos of your pet and a physical description.

Be as specific as necessary when creating the document. If there are certain types of foods that you use, list them. If there are regular routines that your pet is comfortable with and that you’d like the caregiver to continue, then detail them. The more information you can provide, the more likely it will be that your pet will continue to live as they did when you were taking care of them.

Finally, make sure that your estate planning attorney, the trustee, and the pet’s designated caregiver all have a copy of your trust, so they are certain to follow your wishes.

Learns how a pet trust works.

Reference: The Balance (March 27, 2019) “Estate Planning for Fido: How to Set Up a Pet Trust”

Avoiding a Family Feud When Choosing a Power of Attorney

The challenge in tasking a family member or trusted friend is not just making sure they have the necessary skills, but to navigate family dynamics so that no fights occur says Considerable.com in the article “How to assign power of attorney without sparking a family feud.” Every family situation is different, but in almost all cases, a power of attorney helps a lot.

Start by understanding exactly what is meant by power of attorney, how it functions within the estate plan, and how siblings can all be involved to some degree with the family’s decision-making process.

Power of attorney is a term that gives an individual, or sometimes, individuals, the legal authority to act on behalf of someone else. It is usually used when a person, usually a parent or a spouse, is unable to make decisions for themselves because of illness or injury. It must be noted that power of attorney relates to financial and legal decisions. There are methods to address making decisions for another person for their health care or end-of-life decisions, but they are not accomplished by the power of attorney (POA).

It should be noted that there is a distinct difference between power of attorney and executor of the estate. Power of attorney is in effect while the person who has granted the authority is alive, but unable to act on their own behalf. The executor of the estate assumes responsibility for managing the estate through the probate process. While they are two different roles, they are often held by the same person, usually an adult child who is responsible and has good decision-making skills.

There are different types of power of attorney roles. The most common is the general power of attorney, followed by the health care or medical power of attorney. The general power of attorney refers to the person who has the authority to handle financial, business or private affairs. If a parent grants power of attorney to one of their children, that child then has the authority to act on behalf of the parent.

Trouble starts if the relationship between siblings is rocky, or if major decisions are made without discussions with siblings.

It’s not easy for siblings when one of them has been granted the power of attorney. That means they must accept the inherent authority of the chosen sibling to make all decisions for their parent. The sibling with the power of authority will have a smoother path if they can be sensitive to how this makes the others feel.

“Mom always liked you best,” is not a sentence that should come from a 50 year old, but often childhood dynamics can reappear during these times.

Remember that the power of attorney is also a fiduciary obligation, meaning that the person who holds it is required to act in the best interest of the parent and not their own. If the relationship between siblings is not good, or there’s no transparency when decisions are made, things can get bumpy.

Here are some tips for parents to bear in mind when deciding who should be their power of attorney:

  • Understand the great power that is being given to another person.
  • Make sure the person who is to be named POA understands the entire range of responsibilities they will have.
  • The siblings who have not been named will need to understand and respect the arrangement. They should also be aware of the potential for problems, keeping their eyes open and being watchful without being suspicious.

Some families appoint two siblings as a means of creating a “checks and balances” solution. This can be set up so the agents need to act jointly, where both agree on an action, or independently, where each has the full authority to act alone. In some cases, this will lesson the chances for jealousy and mistrust, but it can also prolong the decision-making process. It also creates the potential for situations where the family is engaged in a deadlock and important decisions don’t get made.

Parents should discuss these appointments with their estate planning attorney. Their years of experience in navigating family issues and dynamics give the attorneys insights that will be helpful with assigning these important tasks.

Learn how a good power of attorney can give you peace of mind.

Reference: Considerable.com (July 10, 2019) “How to assign power of attorney without sparking a family feud”

Join Our eNews

WATCH OUR MASTERCLASS