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Unmarried couple

Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples. For some couples, getting married just doesn’t feel necessary. However, they don’t enjoy the automatic legal rights and protections that legally wed spouses do, especially when it comes to death. There are many spousal rights that come with a marriage certificate, reports CNBC in the article “Here’s what happens to your partner if you’re not married and you die.” Without the benefit of marriage, extra planning is necessary to protect each other.

Taxes are a non-starter. There’s no federal or state income tax form that will permit a non-married couple to file jointly. If one of the couple’s employers is the source of health insurance for both, the amount that the company contributes is taxable to the employee. A spouse doesn’t have to pay taxes on health insurance.

More important, however, is what happens when one of the partners dies or becomes incapacitated. A number of documents need to be created, so should one become incapacitated, the other is able to act on their behalf. Preparations also need to be made, so the surviving partner is protected and can manage the deceased’s estate.

In order to be prepared, an estate plan is necessary. Creating a plan for what happens to you and your estate is critical for unmarried couples who want their commitment to each other to be protected at death. The general default for a married couple is that everything goes to the surviving spouse. However, for unmarried couples, the default may be a sibling, children, parents or other relatives. It won’t be the unmarried partner.

This is especially true, if a person dies with no will. The courts in the state of residence will decide who gets what, depending upon the law of that state. If there are multiple heirs who have conflicting interests, it could become nasty—and expensive.

However, a will isn’t all that is needed.

Most tax-advantaged accounts—Roth IRAs, traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans, etc.—have beneficiaries named. That person receives the assets upon death of the owner. The same is true for investment accounts, annuities, life insurance and any financial product that has a beneficiary named. The beneficiary receives the asset, regardless of what is in the will. Therefore, checking beneficiaries need to be part of the estate plan.

Checking, savings and investment accounts that are in both partner’s names will become the property of the surviving person, but accounts with only one person’s name on them will not. A Transfer on Death (TOD) or Payable on Death (POD) designation should be added to any single-name accounts.

Unmarried couples who own a home together need to check how the deed is titled, regardless who is on the mortgage. The legal owner is the person whose name is on the deed. If the house is only in one person’s name, it won’t become part of the estate. Change the deed so both names are on the deed with rights of survivorship, so both are entitled to assume full ownership upon the death of the other.

To prepare for incapacity, an estate planning attorney can help create a durable power of attorney for health care, so partners will be able to make medical decisions on each other’s behalf. A living will should also be created for both people, which states wishes for end of life decisions. For financial matters, a durable power of attorney will allow each partner to have control over each other’s financial affairs.

It takes a little extra planning for unmarried couples, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have prepared to care for each other, until death do you part, is priceless.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 16, 2019) “Here’s what happens to your partner if you’re not married and you die”

Read more about this here: 

4 estate planning tips for unmarried couples

11 Financial Documents Unmarried Couples Should Know About

Also read our previous Blog:

How Should Couples Begin the Estate Planning Process?

 

What Is an Advance Care Directive?

People start out with good intentions at the start of the year, and then fail to follow through.  This makes difficult situations even worse for their family. The process begins with discussions about your care wishes, explains the Chicago Tribune’s Daily Southdown in the article “Talk to your family now about advance care directives.” The next step is by making your wishes know to your health care proxy.

That conversation should include who you would trust as a health care agent. This person would be named in the medical power of attorney, an advance directive legal document that gives that person the power to make medical and care decisions on your behalf if you are not able to.

That person needs to know, from you, what’s important to you when it comes to quality of life, or length of life.

This is a very important document, as the person has the power to make life and death decisions on your behalf.

It also covers whether you want to be an organ donor. If an unexpected accident occurred and your organs were still healthy and working, would you want to give them to someone who needs a kidney or a heart? If that would be your goal, you need to make your wishes known to your health care proxy and health care providers, as well as to your family.

A living will is also important to have in place. This is used in cases of incurable or irreversible injury, disease, or illness. It expresses your wishes for end-of life care. It gives you the ability to refuse any death-delaying treatment and allow you to die naturally.

These are family matters that should be discussed, but often are not. The topics are hard, as they are centered on our mortality, the mortality of those we love and the reality of death. However, when family members know what their loved one’s wishes are, it provides the family with a tremendous relief.

Without a medical power of attorney or living will, the family may end up fighting over what each member thinks their loved ones wanted. Without clear direction from the family and the correct legal documents, the health care provider must take steps to prolong life, even if that is not what the person wanted.

When naming a health care agent, think about someone who you trust completely. That person will have access to your medical records and be able to approve who else sees them. They may also authorize tests and treatment, decide where you will receive care, which physicians will provide care and whether to accept, withdraw or decline treatment.

Reference: Chicago Tribune’s Daily Southdown (Dec. 30, 2019) “Talk to your family now about advance care directives”

Read about Life Planning Perspective from:  State.FL.us

AARP Advanced Directives. Preventing unnecessary heartache and turmoil for families.

Also read our previous Blog: When Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

Are You Forgetting this Estate Planning Document?

Forbes’ recent article, “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document,” explains that a health care directive is a legal document in which an individual writes down his decisions for caregivers in the event of illness or dementia and makes instructions about end of life decisions. It can also provide guidance on how caregivers should handle the body after death.

Health care directives are also called living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, or medical directives, but they all serve the same function, which is to provide guidance and direction on how a person’s medical and death decisions should be made.

Despite the importance of a health care directive, a 2017 study found that only 33% of all Americans have one.

A critical decision in a health care directive is selecting an agent. This is a proxy who acts on your behalf to make decisions that are consistent with your wishes. It’s important to pick an individual whose values are aligned with yours. This is your advocate on decisions, like if you want to have treatment continued or just be kept comfortable in palliative care.

Once you choose an agent, review your directive with her. This will give her guidance if and when the need for her to step in arises.

The agent’s role in the health care directive doesn’t end at death but continues to ensure that your post-mortem wishes are carried out. When the person dies, the agent takes control of the body. Prior to funeral plans, the agent must make certain that any organ donation wishes are carried out. This decision is usually shown on a person’s driver’s license, but it’s also re-stated in the health care directive.

After the donation wishes are carried out, the agent helps to make sure funeral wishes are handled properly. These instructions can be detailed in the health care directive.

With a health care directive put in place, you make things easier for your family and loved ones.

Good estate planning brings peace of mind.

Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”

Elder Law is About Protecting Assets From Long-Term Care Costs

Can You Tackle Elder Law on Your Own?

What usually happens when people do their own estate planning or work on elder law issues, without a lawyer who has years of practice? They may not incur the costs on the front end, but the costs, in financial and emotional terms, often arrive just when the individual or their family is most vulnerable. That message comes through loud and clear in the article “Do-it-yourself elder law estate planning can be risky” from a recent article in the Times Herald-Record.

Let’s clarify the two different areas:

  • Estate planning is about leaving assets to heirs with a minimum of court costs, legal fees and avoiding will contests.
  • Elder law is concerned with protecting assets from the cost of long-term care and empowering people who will be able to make legal, financial and medical decisions on your behalf, if you become incapacitated.

Two of the most important documents in an elder law estate plan are the Powers of Attorney (POA) and health care proxies. If these forms are not prepared correctly, problems will ensue. In some states, like New York, the POA form is long and complicated. Banks and financial institutions will refuse to recognize the form, if they are not completed correctly.

A POA needs to include the “Statutory Gifts Rider,” which allows broad giving powers to the elder law attorney to save assets, even on the eve of the person being admitted to a nursing home. Someone who is not an elder law attorney is not likely to know what this is, or how to prepare it.

There will be similar issues to a do-it-yourself health care proxy. Here’s just one example of the many things that can go wrong: an agent may not make decisions about withholding certain extreme life support measures, even if they are in possession of a valid health care proxy. There needs to be a living will from the individual that explicitly states their wishes regarding withholding heroic means and/or artificial measures. Without the proper document, the person could remain on life support for months or years, even if this was not their wish.

A do-it-yourself approach leaves much to chance. As a result, the potential for problems is enormous. A far better solution that spares spouses and loved ones, is to work with an experienced estate planning lawyer. Can you put a price on peace of mind?

Learn how long-term care costs can affect your estate plan.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Nov. 23, 2019) “Do-it-yourself elder law estate planning can be risky”

Not Having a Will Should Scare You

For families of people who don’t have a will, dealing with their estate is an expensive, stressful and time-consuming experience. A will isn’t anything to be afraid of, says the Herald Journal in the article “It’s Halloween, do you have a will?” Here’s a list of things not to do that should be useful for anyone who doesn’t have a will yet.

Don’t procrastinate. You can keep on waiting until there’s a better time, but life has a way of happening while we’re waiting. Now is the time to do your will. For your sake, and your family’s sake, don’t put it off any longer.

This is not a do-it-yourself project. No matter how simple you think your estate is, it isn’t. A form that you download from a website may not be legal in your state. Nothing can replace the sense of security that sitting down with an experienced estate planning attorney can give to you and your family. You’ll know that your will is legally valid in your state, follows all the right steps and was created for your unique situation.

An estate plan requires more than a will. There are many other documents and strategies to consider. Chances are that you already have more than a few other accounts to consider, like an insurance policy, investment accounts and jointly owned accounts. For an estate plan to protect you and your family, you’ll need a power of attorney, health care power of attorney, a living will and possibly a trust. A qualified attorney will help you coordinate all of your assets and make sure everything is properly prepared.

Don’t set it and forget it. Your life changes, and so should your estate plan. There have been some large changes to the tax law in recent years, and a number of bills are now pending in Congress that may bring even bigger changes in 2020. Your family may have celebrated a marriage, welcomed a new child or experienced a loss. All of these issues require updates to your estate plan.

Don’t hide your will and estate planning documents. Having all of these documents prepared properly is step one. The next step is to make sure that your family members know where the documents have been stored and how to access them. They should not be in a safe deposit box, as those are usually sealed upon the death of the owner. If you don’t own a waterproof, fireproof safe, consider purchasing one. Then tell a trusted family member where it is.

If charitable giving is part of your life, make it part of your legacy. Making a charitable gift as part of your estate plan can be helpful in reducing your estate taxes. It also sends a positive message about philanthropy to your family.

Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to create your will, establish protection for yourself and your spouse in case of incapacity and create a legacy.

A will is a start but not a complete estate plan.

Reference: Herald Journal (October 26, 2019) “It’s Halloween, do you have a will?”

Why A Living Will Might Be Part of Your Estate Plan

There are several different legal documents that your estate planning attorney can prepare for you to direct how you want health care to be provided. The Medical Advance Directive often refers to a Living Will, but the category also includes medical durable powers of attorney, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) directives, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders, Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (MOST) and other directives regarding your medical care in the event you have a medical crisis, a terminal medical condition and just before or after your passing. The article “About the Law” from The Villager describes these important issues in detail.

In some states, a Living Will is known as an Advanced Directive for Medical/Surgical Treatment. This document tells medical professionals how you want to be treated, if you are suffering from a terminal condition that is neither curable nor reversible, or if you are in a coma, also known as a “persistent vegetative state” and cannot speak for yourself. It’s referred to more commonly as a Living Will and is signed with the same type of formality as a Last Will and Testament. Like your will, it must be signed in front of two witnesses and it must be notarized.

The Living Will is used for two situations. One is a terminal condition, where the use of life-saving procedures will only postpone death, but not promote any healing that would lead to a recovery. The second is in a persistent vegetative state, which must be determined by medical professionals. There are three choices for the family: one is to forgo life-sustaining treatment and let the person die. The second is to accept life-sustaining treatment, but only for a limited period of time. Often this is to allow family members to gather to say their farewells. The third is to continue life-sustaining treatment.

A person may express their wishes for their care and also give permission to certain persons to talk with their doctor. This is made necessary, due to the HIPAA act. Otherwise, the doctor would legally not be permitted to discuss the patient’s care with unauthorized people.

As long as you are able to make your own medical decisions, you can determine what treatments to receive, or which treatments you do not wish to receive. The goal of the Living Will is to allow you to express your wishes, if you have lost the ability to communicate.

Other estate planning documents that you’ll need are a will, to distribute your property, a financial or general power of attorney, so that someone you name can make decisions and take actions on your financial affairs and, depending upon your situation, a trust.

Because the laws governing living wills and estate planning are set by your state, you’ll want to speak with an estate planning attorney in your community. They’ll help you determine how you want your medical care to proceed, guide you in clarifying your wishes for your family and create the necessary legal documents to fulfill your wishes.

Learn about the importance of a living will.

Reference: The Village (July 3, 2019) “About the Law”

Blended Family Calls For Protecting Children and New Spouse

There are a number of issues in estate planning that are more important in second and subsequent marriages. The planning needs of blended families are discussed in the article “Estate planning documents for second marriages” from the Cleveland Jewish News. A couple who each have children from a prior marriage are planning to marry again and blend their families. Consequently, the blended family couple needs to address income taxes, a prenuptial agreement, pension and 401(k) benefits, Social Security, college funding, cost sharing and estate planning documents.

Here’s an example of how important estate planning is for blended families. A couple who has children of their prior marriages get married. Twenty years later, the husband dies. He had wanted to provide for his second wife, so his will stated that all his assets went to his wife, with the understanding that on her death, those assets would go back to his children.

What actually occurred was that his wife lived a long time after he passed, and she simply combined their assets. When she died, the money went to her children, and her husband’s children received nothing. The husband’s children didn’t believe that he meant to do that, but because of the lack of planning, that’s exactly what happened.

What were the alternatives? He could have set up a marital trust that would have held the assets for his second wife on his death, but upon the wife’s passing, would have gone back to his children. The trust document prohibits the wife from transferring the assets to her children.

It’s wonderful to have a verbal agreement with your spouse, but if you don’t set up a formal legal plan, there’s no way to be sure that assets will be distributed as intended.

Another way to ensure that children from a blended family receive what they are intended, is to have an independent person or entity, like a bank or a trust company, oversee a marital trust.

Other important documents include a durable financial power of attorney, durable health care power of attorney and a living will declaration.

Anyone who has been divorced needs to review their estate planning documents to ensure that they reflect their new marital status, especially when they marry again. That is also the time to review beneficiary designations that appear on insurance policies, 401(k)s, pensions, retirement accounts and investment accounts.

There’s no “set it and forget” plan for estate documents, so before you walk down the aisle a second time, or shortly after you do so, speak with an estate planning attorney to clarify your goals and put them into the appropriate estate planning documents.

See how to design an estate plan with a blended family.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (May 7, 2019) “Estate planning documents for second marriages”

Do You Need a Power of Attorney When Diagnosed with a Serious Illness?

Having a power of attorney is critical for the more than 130 million Americans living with chronic illness. Forbes’ recent article, “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness,” says that if you (or a loved one) are living with a chronic illness, you’ll likely need a good power of attorney and other important estate planning documents.

The article discusses these key estate planning documents, along with some suggestions that might help you customize them to your unique challenges because of chronic illness. These documents might need to be altered to better serve your needs or address your challenges. It’s best to get your estate planning documents in place, soon after your diagnosis.

HIPAA Release. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 governs the requirements for maintaining the confidentiality of protected or personal health information (PHI). A HIPAA Release lets someone you trust access your protected health information.

Living Will. This is a statement of your health care wishes and can address end of life decisions, as well as many other matters. If you’re living with a chronic illness, there are special considerations you might want to make in having a living will prepared. You might alter the general language to explain your specific disease. The fact that you’re living with disease doesn’t mean you might not face another health issue. Therefore, if you make modifications, set them out as examples of specific changes but retain the broad language that might be more typically used. You can address the disease you have, at what stage and with what anticipated disease course, and how if at all these matters should be reflected. You might wish to also speak to experimental treatments.

Health Care Proxy. This is also known as a medical power of attorney. It is a legal document in which you designate a trusted person to make medical decisions for you, if you’re unable to do so. If your health challenges might result in your becoming incapacitated, you can say that the agent appointed under your health proxy is also to be named as your guardian of the person, should a guardianship proceeding ever happen. Although this may not be binding on the court, it may be persuasive.

Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). This is a document that may be included as part of your medical records. A POLST is meant for the end of life medical decisions and may not be as broad as what you might accomplish with a health proxy or living will.

Financial Power of Attorney. This legal document lets you designate a trusted person to handle your legal, tax, and financial matters, if you can’t. There are some unique considerations for those living with chronic illnesses to consider. One is the amount of control that should be given up now or at what stage. Relinquish enough control, so you can be assisted to the degree necessary, but not more than you need at any point in time. Another characteristic for your powers of attorney, is if you should sign a special power that restricts the agent’s authority to certain specified items or sign a general power that provides broad and almost unlimited powers to the agent.

A Revocable Trust. A frequent goal of a revocable trust is to avoid the publicity, costs and difficulties of probate. However, if you or a family member has a chronic illness, using a revocable trust may be a good way to provide for succession of management for your finances.

Learn when you need a power of attorney.

Reference: Forbes (July 5, 2019) “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness”

Do I Need to Update My Estate Plan if I Move to a New State?

Anyone who moves to another state, for retirement, a new job or to be closer to family, needs to have a look at their estate plan to make sure it is valid in their new state, advises the Boca Newspaper in the recent article “I’ve Relocated To Florida…Should I Update My Estate Plan?”   If an estate plan hasn’t been created, a relocation is the perfect opportunity to get this important task done. Think of it as preparation for your new life in your new home.

Because so many retirees do relocate to Florida, there are some general rules that make this easier. For one thing, most wills that are valid in another state are recognized in Florida. There’s a specific law in the Florida statutes that confirms that “other than a holographic or nuncupative will, executed by a nonresident of Florida… is valid as a will in this state if valid under the laws of the state or country where the will was executed.”

In other words, if the estate plan was prepared by an estate planning attorney and is legally valid in the prior state, it will be valid in Florida. Exceptions are a holographic will, which is a handwritten will that is signed by the person with no witnesses, or a nuncupative will, which is a verbal statement made in front of witnesses.

However, just because your will is recognized in Florida, does not mean that it doesn’t need a review.

There are distinctions in Florida law that may make certain provisions invalid or change their meaning. In one well-known case, a will was missing one sentence—known as a “residual clause,” a catch-all that distributes assets that are otherwise not specified. The maker of the will wanted everything to go to her brother. However, without that one clause, property acquired after the will was created was not included. The court determined that the property that was acquired after the will was created, would go to other relatives, despite the wishes of the decedent.

Little details mean a lot when it comes to estate plans.

It’s important to ensure that the last will and testament properly expresses intentions under the laws of your new home state. As you review or begin the process, this might be the time to speak with your estate planning attorney about whether any trusts are applicable to your estate. A revocable living trust, for example, would avoid the assets placed in the trust having to go through probate.

This is also the time to review your Durable Power of Attorney, designation of a Health Care Surrogate, Living Will and nomination of a pre-need Guardian.

Estate planning gives peace of mind, knowing that the legal side of your life is all taken care of. It avoids stress and unnecessary costs and delays to your family. It should be reviewed and updated, if needed, at big events in your life, including a relocation, the sale or purchase of a home or when you retire.

Learn how a getting a revocable living trust in your new home state may be a good idea.

Reference: Boca Newspaper (May 1, 2019) “I’ve Relocated To Florida…Should I Update My Estate Plan?”

women

Smart Women Protect Themselves with Estate Planning

The reason to have an estate plan is two-fold: to protect yourself, while you are living and to protect those you love, after you have passed. If you have an estate plan, says the Boca Newspaper in the article titled “Smart Tips for Women: Estate Planning,” your wishes for the distribution of your assets are more likely to be carried out, tax liabilities can be minimized and your loved ones will not be faced with an extended and expensive process of settling your estate.

Here are some action items to consider as a woman, when putting your estate plan in place:

If you have an estate plan but aren’t really sure what’s in it, it’s time to get those questions answered. Make sure that you understand everything. Don’t be intimidated by the legal language: ask questions and keep asking until you fully understand the documents.

If you have not reviewed your estate plan in three or four years, it’s time for a review. There have been new tax laws that may have changed the outcomes from your estate plan. Anytime there is a big change in the law or in your life, it’s time for a review. Triggering events include births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, purchases of a home or a business or a major change in financial status, good or bad.

If you don’t have an estate plan, stop postponing and make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, as soon as possible.

Your estate plan should include advance directives, including a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate, and a Living Will. You may not be capable of executing these documents during a health emergency and having them in place will make it possible for those you name to make decisions on your behalf.

Anyone who is over the age of 18, needs to have these same documents in place. Parents do not have a legal right to make any decisions or obtain medical information about their children, once they celebrate their 18th birthday.

Make a list of your trusted professionals: your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor, your insurance agent and anyone else your executor will need to contact.

Tell your family where this list is located. Don’t ask them to go on a scavenger hunt, while they are grieving your loss.

List all your assets. You should include where they are located, account numbers, contact phone numbers, etc. Tell your family that this list exists and where to find it.

If you have assets with primary beneficiaries, make sure that they also have contingent beneficiaries.

If you have assets from a first marriage and remarry, be smart and have a prenuptial agreement drafted that aligns with a new estate plan.

If you have children and assets from a first marriage and want to make sure that they continue to be your heirs, work with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to make this happen. You may need a will, or you may simply need to have your children become the primary beneficiaries on certain accounts. A trust may be needed. Your estate planning attorney will know the best strategy for your situation.

If you own a business, make sure you have a plan for what will happen to that business, if you become incapacitated or die unexpectedly. Who will run the business, who will own it and should it be sold? Consider what you’d like to happen for long-standing employees and clients.

Smart women make plans for themselves and their loved ones. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you navigate through an estate plan. Remember that an estate plan needs upkeep on a regular basis.

Reference: Boca Newspaper (March 4, 2019) “Smart Tips for Women: Estate Planning”

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