Surviving Spouse Needs An Estate Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do We Live Our Lives When A Loved One Has Alzheimer’s?

The scenario is worrisome, as no one can be sure that this is something B. Smith would have wanted, if she had been asked before the disease had progressed. However, one good thing has come out of it, according to the article “B. Smith’s Alzheimer’s raises question: How to protect your wishes when incapacitated” from USA Today. There are more discussions about expressing people’s wishes, before they become incapacitated from Alzheimer’s.

More families are experiencing this very same dilemma because of the increasing number of Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. More than 5.7 million in this country are suffering from this disease, which currently has no cure and is most likely to impact seniors, women and African Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Without advance planning, it’s impossible to know what someone would want to happen. Discussing this is critical, while a patient is still relatively healthy and able to communicate her wishes to family members and to an estate planning attorney.

People who work in this area say there are two areas that must be addressed. One is drafting legal documents with an experienced estate attorney to determine who should be entrusted with health care and financial decisions. There is also a need for document known as a “statement of values” that will help family members understand goals and wishes and not be left guessing.

These decisions are not easy to consider when a person is still well. However, thinking about them and putting them down on paper, and then having the necessary documents prepared to formalize them and make them enforceable are important.

Here are the documents needed:

Durable power of attorney: This lets a trusted family or friend make financial decisions, in the event of incapacity.

Power of attorney for health care: This document permits a family member or friend to make decisions about health care decisions.

A will. The will is for the disposition of assets after your death. It also names the person who will be in charge, the executor.

A revocable trust. This is one of many documents that can be used to allow you to set conditions and directions about assets, while you are still living but when you have become incapacitated. It can be changed at your direction. Hence, the term revocable. An estate planning attorney will know what type of trust should be used for your situation.

Only four out of 10 Americans have wills, with many hesitating to have them created because they think that only rich people need a will. However, without a will, or the other documents described above, the family is left in a terrible situation, where there will be additional costs, if and when decisions need to be made but no one has been legally empowered to make the decisions.

The revocable trust could bypass many unpleasant situations, like instructing a power of attorney to place your assets in a trust that was set up specifically to pay for your care in a skilled nursing facility of your choice, or to describe with great specificity who was allowed to live in your home, if you became incapacitated.

Another missing step: the family discussion. Getting everyone together to discuss planning for the future, isn’t as fun as going on a family vacation, but it is important. If someone is starting to have the effects of dementia, they may not remember what they told another family member. With everyone in the same room, there will be a better chance that their wishes will be clear.

The moment someone learns that they have dementia, is the time to put all these elements into place, before it is too late.

Reference: USA Today (Jan. 31, 2019) “B. Smith’s Alzheimer’s raises question: How to protect your wishes when incapacitated”