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Monday, December 02, 2013

14 Costly Misconceptions About Planning for Your Senior Years

A Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer Discusses Estate Planning Issues Specific to Seniors

Misconception #1: Most seniors move into nursing homes as a result of minor physical ailments that make it hard for them to get around.  Wrong!  A large percentage of admissions to nursing homes is because of serious health, behavior, and safety issues caused by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Misconception #2: Nursing home costs in Minnesota average $1,500 to $2,500 per month per person.  Hardly.  Current nursing home charges for one resident typically run $6,000 per month, or $72,000 per year, which does not include prescription drugs -- and those costs continue to rise.

Misconception #3: Children can care for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease at home, without the need for nursing home care.  Not true!  Many patients with Alzheimer’s disease end up in nursing homes because children are simply unable to provide the level of care their parent needs.  In most cases, the children want to care for their parents.  But, as a practical matter, they simply can’t.  Moving a parent into a nursing home is an intensely personal issue and should not be labeled as a right or wrong decision. In many cases, it’s the only realistic option.  The rare exception is when the family has enough money to pay for skilled nursing care at home.

Misconception #4: Standard legal forms are all you need for a good estate plan.  Not true.  A competent estate plan begins with clearly defined goals, supported by well-drafted legal documents, and the repositioning of assets, as needed, to protect your estate from taxes, probate costs, and catastrophic nursing home costs. But you MUST PLAN EARLY.

Misconception #5: Your child will never move you into a nursing home.  Wrong.  Most children consider all options before moving a parent into a nursing home.  But, sadly, children usually find they have no other alternative.  As a result, parents who never expected to live in a nursing home soon discover that a nursing home is the only place with the staff and equipment to provide the care they need.

Misconception #6: As payment for nursing home care, the government will take your family home.  Not true, if you plan ahead.  Many people fear that the government will take their home in exchange for nursing home care, but you can avoid this with proper planning.  You’ll be glad to know there are some ways you can protect your home so it won’t be taken.

Misconception #7: You will never end up in a nursing home.  That’s hard to predict.  Your odds are roughly 50/50.  Of Americans reaching age 65 in any year, nearly half will spend some time in a nursing home.  And a surprising number will require care for longer than one year.  That means every year, tens of thousands of seniors will face costs of $48,000 or more ($60,000 in Minnesota), which does not include the cost of prescription drugs.

Misconception #8: If your spouse enters a nursing home, all of your joint savings will have to be spent on his or her care.  No.  With proper planning you can keep half of your combined “countable” assets up to approximately $103,000 (increasing each year).  In some circumstances, you may be able to protect nearly all of your life savings.  In fact, it is often possible to protect much more than the $103,000 maximum.  “Countable” assets are those assets such as cash, checking accounts, savings, CDs, stocks, and bonds that the government considers available to be spent on the cost of nursing home care.

Misconception #9: Legally, you can give away only $14,000 to each of your children each year.  Not true.  You can give away any amount, but you have to report to the IRS gifts in excess of $14,000 per recipient per year ($28,000 if both husband and wife make a gift).  However, there is no requirement that you pay any gift tax unless you have exhausted your lifetime exclusion amount, which is currently set at $2,000,000 for an individual. But, there is a "look back" period so you must work with a qualified attorney before gifting away any assets as you age.

Misconception #10: You can wait to do long-term planning until your spouse or you get sick.  Yes, to some degree.  However, you and your spouse will be much better off if you have taken important planning steps in advance, before a crisis occurs.  What stops most people from being able to effectively plan when they are in the middle of a crisis is that the ill person is unable to make decisions and sign the necessary legal documents.

Misconception #11: All General Durable Powers of Attorney are created equal.  Completely false!  A General Durable Power of Attorney is a highly customized legal document -- and NOT a form!  Most Durable Powers of Attorney don’t contain even the most basic gifting authority.  Without a gifting power, your agent is usually limited to spending your money on your bills and selling your assets to generate cash to pay your bills.  Some Durable Powers of Attorney contain a gifting provision, but the Minnesota Statutory Power of Attorney it is limited to $10,000 per year.  This is particularly concerning for unmarried couples as the IRS considers ANY exchange of money/assets between them to be a gift.  The annual limit of $10,000 is too small for effective asset protection planning, and relates to a completely different type of federal estate and gift tax issue.  Unique Estate Law has created an enhanced power of attorney to get around that limit.

Misconception #12: Since you are married, your spouse will be able to manage your property and make financial decisions without a general durable power of attorney.  Not true.  If you become incapacitated and your spouse needs to sell or mortgage the family home -- or gain access to financial ac-counts that are in your name only -- your spouse will need a general durable power of attorney.  Without one, your spouse will have to go to Court and get the judge’s permission to act on your behalf by way of a conservatorship proceeding.

Misconception #13: You can hide your assets while you become eligible for Medicaid (Known as Medical Assistance in Minnesota).  False!  Intentional misrepresentation in a Medicaid application is a crime and can be costly.  The IRS shares any information concerning your income or assets with the local Medicaid eligibility office.  You -- or who-ever applied for Medicaid -- may have to repay Medicaid to avoid prosecution.

Misconception #14: Medicaid rules that applied to your neighbor when he went into a nursing home will also apply to you.  Maybe not.  Medicaid rules change.  Don’t assume the law that applied to your neighbor will also apply to you.  In addition, there may have been facts about your neighbor’s situation that you just don’t know.


Monday, September 16, 2013

A Simple Will Is Not Enough

A Minnesota Estate Planning Attorney Explains Why You Need to do More Than Draft a Will

A basic last will and testament cannot accomplish every goal of estate planning; in fact, it often cannot even accomplish the most common goals.  This fact often surprises people who are going through the estate planning process for the first time.  In addition to a last will and testament, there are other important planning tools which are necessary to ensure your estate planning wishes are honored.

Beneficiary Designations
Do you have a pension plan, 401(k), life insurance, a bank account with a pay-on-death directive, or investments in transfer-on-death (TOD) form?

When you established each of these accounts, you designated at least one beneficiary of the account in the event of your death.  You cannot use your will to change or override the beneficiary designations of such accounts.  Instead, you must change them directly with the bank or company that holds the account.

Special Needs Trusts
Do you have a child or other beneficiary with special needs?

Leaving money directly to a beneficiary who has long-term special medical needs may threaten his or her ability to qualify for government benefits and may also create an unnecessary tax burden.  A simple vehicle called a special needs trust is a more effective way to care for an adult child with special needs after your death.

Conditional Giving with Living or Testamentary Trusts
Do you want to place conditions on some of your bequests?

If you want your children or other beneficiaries to receive an inheritance only if they meet or continually meet certain prerequisites, you must utilize a trust, either one established during your lifetime (living trust) or one created through instructions provided in a will (testamentary trust).

Estate Tax Planning
Do you expect your estate to owe estate taxes?

A basic will cannot help you lower the estate tax burden on your assets after death.  If you think your estate will be liable to pay taxes, you can take steps during your lifetime to minimize that burden on your beneficiaries.  Certain trusts operate to minimize estate taxes, and you may choose to make some gifts during your lifetime for tax-related reasons.  

Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship
Do you own a house with someone “in joint tenancy”?

“Joint tenancy” is the most common form of house ownership with a spouse.  This form of ownership is also known as “joint tenancy with right of survivorship,” “tenancy in the entirety,” or “community property with right of survivorship.”  When you die, your ownership share in the house passes directly to your spouse (or the other co-owner).  A provision in your will bequeathing your ownership share to a third party will not have any effect.


Monday, September 09, 2013

20 Costly Misconceptions About Wills and Trusts

Misconception #1: A Will avoids probate.  No.  A Will is the primary tool of the probate system. Your Will is like a letter to the Court telling the Court how you want your property distributed.  Then you must make sure that you prove to the Court that all your property is collected and appraised, and all your bills and taxes are paid, before your property can be distributed to your heirs.

Misconception #2: A Testamentary Trust avoids probate.  No.  A Testamentary Trust is a Trust contained within a Will that holds property for a specific purpose.  For example, one purpose would be to hold property until minor children turn 18, when they can legally own property -- or until children reach the age when you believe they are mature enough to responsibly handle the property.  A Testamentary Trust is not a Revocable Living Trust.  It is part of a Will and takes effect only when the Will is probated.

Misconception #3: Probate costs and the costs of administration of the estate are small.  Not necessarily.  Such costs can be very substantial.  The real problem is, no one can tell you how much the costs will be until the probate has been completed, which often can take several years.  The biggest portion of the costs are the fees charged by attorneys and personal representatives for their services for the estate, in addition to filing fees, costs of publication, fees for copies of death certificates, filing and recording fees, bond premiums, appraisal and accounting fees, and more.  Often the fees of personal representatives are based on an hourly rate, and while they can tell you what their hourly rate is, they cannot tell you the number of hours their services will take, so they cannot tell you what their total fees will be.  Like surgery, probate can be simple and easy, but frequently probate can have drastic and damaging results.  Accordingly, like surgery, because of its uncertainty in terms of both the potential for problems and high costs and fees, probate is something best to avoid if you can.

Misconception #4: Property can be distributed according to the terms of your Will in only a few weeks.  In Minnesota, the administration usually takes 12 to 15 months.  During this time, the deceased person’s property must be inventoried and appraised.  Heirs must be notified.  Estate and inheritance taxes, if any, must be paid.  Contested claims, if any, must be settled.  Creditors must be notified and paid.  If all of this is not done before the estate is distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate, the personal representative will be personally responsible for those claims.  As a result, most personal representatives won’t distribute property until they are sure all claims have been settled.

Misconception #5: Your Will and your assets remain private.  No.  Because probate is a public legal proceeding, your estate may become a matter of public record.  This means that anyone -- including nosy neighbors and salespeople -- can go to Court to find out the balance in your savings account, the value of your stocks, even the appraised value of your diamonds.

Misconception #6: A Will helps you avoid taxes.  No.  A simple Will does nothing to lower your taxes. A Will simply tells how you want your property distributed, and who you want to act as guardian for your minor children in case you and your spouse die in a common accident.  A skilled lawyer can use a Will to plan complicated estates that require tax planning, but the cost of the complex plan will be comparable to the cost of a Revocable Living Trust plan.  Plus, the Will-based plan will still have to go through probate.

Misconception #7: Your permanent family home and your vacation home can be handled through the same probate and qualification.  Yes, but only if they are in the same state.  If you own property in different states, a second probate, called an ancillary administration, will need to be opened, which means your estate may need to hire another attorney. This will increase the overall estate administration expense.  And if you own real estate in other states, probates will need to be opened in those states as well.

Misconception #8: A Will prevents quarrels over assets.  Wrong.  Wills are among the most contested legal documents in the United States.  Today, it is common for unhappy relatives to challenge a Will.  This results in higher attorneys’ fees and even more delays.  Wills actually encourage challenges over assets because a petition must be filed in Court to probate them, which is like filing a lawsuit.  As a result, since a lawsuit has already been filed to probate the Will, a contesting party can simply file their claim in Court without instigating their own lawsuit.

Misconception #9: Estranged family members do not need to be notified of a probate if the Will excludes them from an inheritance.  In Minnesota, the Court may require that all heirs be notified of the probate even if they are excluded from the Will.  Certain aspects of the probate process can be avoided and financial responsibility can be mitigated through the use of various trusts and other types of financial planning.

Misconception #10: A Will from one state is not legal in another state.  Wrong.  If the Will is legal in the state where it was prepared, it is legal in all 50 states.  However, Wills do not travel well from state to state and should be reviewed by an attorney and very likely changed whenever you move to a new state. This is because the Will’s language may not mean the same in other states as it did in the state where it was signed.  In addition, many states require witnesses to the Will signing.  If proper procedures are not followed, you may need to produce those witnesses in order to probate the Will.

Misconception #11: A Will helps you when you become physically or mentally incapacitated.  No.  A Will is totally ineffective until death, and, therefore, does nothing to help you through incapacity and disability.  Your family or friends may have to go to Court to start costly guardianship or conservatorship proceedings.

Misconception #12: You must name your attorney as your personal representative.  No.  You may name anyone you choose.

Misconception #13: The cost of your estate plan is only the cost of drawing up the documents.  No.  The cost of your estate plan is both the cost of drafting the documents and the cost of distributing property to your heirs.  Simple Wills are less expensive to set up, but potentially expensive when they go through probate and there is qualification on the estate and estate administration.  Revocable Living Trusts may initially cost more than a simple Will, but the overall cost of settling your estate is often substantially less.

Misconception #14: Revocable Living Trusts are only for large estates.  No.  Revocable Living Trusts are for anyone who wants to avoid costly conservatorship and probate proceedings.  In appropriate cases, people with small estates can benefit from a Revocable Living Trust.  People with larger estates can benefit even more.

Misconception #15: A Revocable Living Trust is a public document.  No.  Your Revocable Living Trust can remain private because it does not have to be recorded or published in any way.  The only people who will know about your Trust are the people you choose to tell.  However, some professionals may need to review your Trust to confirm that your trustee is authorized to take a particular action.  This review is for the protection of all beneficiaries of the Trust.

Misconception #16: A Revocable Living Trust cannot be changed.  Wrong.  You can change and even revoke your Revocable Living Trust any time you wish.  The decision is entirely up to you.

Misconception #17: A Revocable Living Trust must have a separate tax return.  No.  As long as you are a trustee or co-trustee of your Revocable Living Trust, it does not need a tax return of its own.  Your personal tax return, which uses your social security number, is sufficient for the IRS.

Misconception #18: When you set up a Revocable Living Trust, you lose control of your assets.  No. When you set up your Revocable Living Trust, you simply name yourself and/or your spouse as Trust managers, called “trustees.”  In this way, you never give up control.

Misconception #19: The best way to transfer assets to your Revocable Living Trust is through a pour-over Will.  No.  A pour-over Will can be used to clean up the transfer of any miscellaneous assets to your Revocable Living Trust, but in order for that to take place, the Will must be probated for the assets to be transferred to the Revocable Living Trust.  A better course of action is to transfer the assets to your Trust while you are still healthy and able.  Not only will you get the peace of mind that comes from knowing the transfer was made properly, you will also get an accurate inventory of your estate.

Misconception #20: There are no costs associated with administering a Trust at the death of the original settlor of the Trust.  Not true.  While people commonly think that only the probate system costs money and takes time, they fail to understand that administering a Trust, distributing Trust assets to beneficiaries named in the Trust, and terminating the Trust can result in fees and costs.  Trustees may also charge fees for their service, and many trustees hire attorneys and accountants.  These costs are paid by the Trust before beneficiaries receive their inheritances.

If you have any questions or concerns relating to a will or trust, please contact our office.


Monday, August 05, 2013

Minnesota Gay Marriage and the Fall of DOMA: Should My Partner and I Get Married?

A Minneapolis Estate Planning Attorney Discusses Minnesota's New Law Allowing Gay Couples to Legally Married

Gay Couples Can Legally Marry in Minnesota

On August 1 Minnesota will become the thirtheenth state to legally recognize same-sex marriages.  Gay couples who decide to tie knot here will gain a variety of financial benefits and legal rights.

Some of the changes will be significant. Couples who marry and live in Minnesota will be able to file their state tax returns jointly. Couples who decide to marry will also be first in line to inherit their spouses’ assets, even in the absence of a will. They’ll gain an array of smaller benefits as well, down to the ability to jointly apply for a fishing license.

The Supreme Court Declares DOMA Unconstitutional

Further, the Supreme Court held that the section of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA') withholding federal benefits from legally married same-sex couples was unconstitutional.  What does that mean?

This means that same-sex couple who are able to legally marry may not be denied the federal benefits provided to married heterosexual couples.

If you are thinking about getting married in Minnesota, or in one of the other jurisdictions in which gay marriage is legal, you need to think about how your new status as a married couple may affect your family with regard to both obligations and benefits.  Further, if you are already legally married in another jurisdiction, that marriage will automatically be recognized here in Minnesota. In other words, if you got married in Canada but live here, that marriage became legally valid in Minnesota at 12:01am on August 1, 2013.

I have a client who was legally married in Canada a few years ago and she said to me, "So, basically I just have to wake up on August 1 and we are legally married, right?"

I think that's a great way to phrase it.

But what does it mean

Many clients have called me to ask about how getting married may affect their estate plans - or other issues related to their day-to-day lives. This is, for our community, unchartered territory and so many people are filled with questions. These new laws affect, in part, the following things:

  • Responsibility for financial support for a spouse
  • Responsibility for decisions relating to medical care and treatment
  • Priority for appointment as conservator, guardian, or personal representative for a spouse
  • Inheritance rights upon the death of a spouse
  • The ability to designate a spouse automatically as a beneficiary to retirement
  • The ability to insure a spouse through most insurance policies (except for those governed by federal law – see next question below)
  • Survivor benefits under workers compensation laws and state or local government pensions
  • Presumptions of parentage for children born during the marriage
  • Marriage also provides for an orderly process for dissolution, spousal maintenance, parenting time, and other protections granted through the divorce process

If you have questions on these, or any other issues, related to the new gay marriage laws, feel free to contact Unique Estate Law to discuss them at your convenience.


Sunday, March 03, 2013

Estate Planning for Gay Familes, Part I: The 4 Essential Documents

Minnesota Lawyer Lists the Critical Documents Every Same-Sex Couple Must Have.

Under current Minnesota (and Federal) law, gay couples do not have any rights to such basic things as: 1) inheriting from each other; 2) making medical decisions for each other; 3) handling financial matters for each other; 4) naming a guardian for a minor child; or 5) continuing to live in the family home if only one partner is listed on the deed.
 

  1.  Will – A will tells who should inherit your property when you pass away, who you want your executor to be, and who will become guardians of any minor children. These issues are all especially important for unmarried individuals. In most states, an unmarried partner does not have inheritance rights, so any property owned by his or her deceased partner would go to other family members. Also, in the case of many gay and lesbian couples, the living partner is not necessarily the biological or adoptive parent of any minor children, which could lead to custody disputes in an already very difficult time.  Therefore, it’s critical to nominate guardians for minor children.
     
  2. Financial power of attorney – A power of attorney (for financial matters) dictates who is authorized to manage your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. Otherwise, it can be very difficult or impossible for the non-disabled partner to manage the disabled partner’s affairs without going through a lengthy guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
     
  3. Advance healthcare directive – A power of attorney for healthcare, informs caregivers as to who is responsible for making healthcare decisions for someone in the event that a person cannot make them for himself, such as in the event of a serious accident or a condition like dementia.
  4. HIPAA Waiver - allows the persons named to discuss your care with a doctor BUT not to make decisions.

If you don't have these documents, your partner may be prohibited from keeping your assets, living in your home, paying your bills, or making your medical decisions.

Call now to protect your family!


Monday, August 13, 2012

Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

A Minneapolis Estate Planning Attorney Examines the Importance of Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

Estate planning is important for everyone. We simply don’t know when something tragic could happen such as sudden death or an accident that could leave us incapacitated. With proper planning, families who are dealing with the unexpected experience fewer headaches and less expense associated with managing affairs after incapacity or administering an estate after death.

If a person fails to do any planning and becomes involved in a debilitating accident or passes away, each state has laws that govern who will inherit assets, become guardians of minor children, make medical decisions for an incapacitated person, dispose of a person’s remains, visit the person in the hospital, and more. In some states, the spouse and any children are given top priority for inheritance rights. In the case of incapacity, spouses are normally granted guardianship over incapacitated spouse, though this requires a lengthy and expensive guardianship proceeding.

In today’s world, increasing numbers of couples are choosing to spend their lives together but aren’t getting married, either because they aren’t allowed to under the laws of their state, such as in the case of gay and lesbian couples, or simply because they choose not to. However, most states don’t recognize unmarried partners as spouses. In order to be given legal rights that married couples receive automatically, unmarried couples need to do special planning in order to protect each other.

In general, unmarried individuals need three basic documents to ensure their rights are protected:

  1. A Will – A will tells who should inherit your property when you pass away, who you want your executor to be, and who will become guardians of any minor children. These issues are all especially important for unmarried individuals. In most states, an unmarried partner does not have inheritance rights, so any property owned by his or her deceased partner would go to other family members. Also, in the case of many gay and lesbian couples, the living partner is not necessarily the biological or adoptive parent of any minor children, which could lead to custody disputes in an already very difficult time.  Therefore, it’s critical to nominate guardians for minor children.
     
  2. A power of attorney – A power of attorney (for financial matters) dictates who is authorized to manage your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. Otherwise, it can be very difficult or impossible for the non-disabled partner to manage the disabled partner’s affairs without going through a lengthy guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
     
  3. Advance healthcare directives – A power of attorney for healthcare, informs caregivers as to who is responsible for making healthcare decisions for someone in the event that a person cannot make them for himself, such as in the event of a serious accident or a condition like dementia. Another related document is a HIPAA waiver, which allows the persons named to discuss your care with a doctor BUT not to make decisions.

A fourth document to consider is the use of a revocable living trust.  A trust document is nothing more than a set of instructions you leave to instruct your trustee on how, when and to whom to distribute your assets.  There are numerous advantages to a trust that are especially appliable to unmarried couples:

  • Avoids probate
  • It's private unlike a will at probate
  • You can determine where any remaining assets may go at your partner's death
  • Avoids court intervention if you're incapacitated

Beyond these documents, it is also critical that you check your beneficiary designations to ensure that the proceeds of your life insurance, retirement accounds, CDs, moneymarket or bank accounts go to your loved one. While your partner may still be able to inherit even without those designations, it will take time and effort to prove to a court that he/she is entitled to the benefits.

Estate planning is undoubtedly more important for unmarried couples than those who are married, since there aren’t built-in protections in the law to protect them and their loved ones.  It’s imperative that unmarried couples establish proper planning to avoid undue hardship, expense and aggravation.

 

 


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What is a Conservatorship?

The Basics of Conservatorships

Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. A tragic accident. A sudden, devastating illness. Have you ever wondered what would happen if a loved one became incapacitated and unable to take care of himself? While many associate incapacity with a comatose state, an individual, while technically functioning, may be considered incapacitated if he cannot communicate through speech or gestures and is unable sign a document, even with a mark. In some cases, an individual may have no trouble communicating, but may not be able to fully appreciate the consequences of their decisions and hence may be deemed to lack capacity. With proper incapacity planning which includes important legal documents such as a durable power of attorney, healthcare proxy and living will, the individuals named in such documents are empowered to make necessary financial and medial decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person without obtaining additional legal authorization.  Without proper incapacity planning documents, even a spouse or adult child cannot make financial and healthcare decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual.  In such cases, a conservatorship (or guardianship) proceeding is necessary so that loved ones are able to provide for their financial and medical healthcare needs.

A conservatorship is a court proceeding where a judge appoints a responsible individual to take care of the adult in question and manage his or her finances and make medical decisions. The court appointed conservator will take over the care of the conservatee (disabled adult).  When appropriate, the court may designate an individual “conservator of the estate” to handle the disabled person’s financial needs and another person “conservator of the person” to manage his healthcare needs. One person can also serve as both. If you are planning to serve as someone’s financial conservator, be prepared to possibly post a bond that serves as a safeguard for the conservatee’s estate. Individual states have their own guidelines for conservators, so check your local rules for more information.  

To minimize the incidence of mismanagement or fraud, the court holds the conservator legally responsible for providing it with regular reports, called an accounting. Additionally, the conservator may not be able to make any major life or medical decisions without the court’s approval and consent. For example, if you have been named the conservator for a relative, you may not be able to sell his or her house without the approval of the court.

The best safeguard to avoid going through court to get a conservatorship, however, would be to establish a durable financial power of attorney, a power of attorney for healthcare, each authorizing a family member or trusted individual to act on your behalf in case of incapacity.  While your agents have a legal obligation to act in your best interest they won’t have to post an expensive bond either.  Make sure the power of attorney clearly states that it will be effective even if the principal becomes incapacitated.

 

 


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Guardianships & Conservatorships and How to Avoid Them

Guardianships & Conservatorships and How to Avoid Them

If a person becomes mentally or physically handicapped to a point where they can no longer make rational decisions about their person or their finances, their loved ones may consider a guardianship or a conservatorship whereby a guardian would make decisions concerning the physical person of the disabled individual, and conservators make decisions about the finances.

Typically, a loved one who is seeking a guardianship or a conservatorship will petition the appropriate court to be appointed guardian and/or conservator. The court will most likely require a medical doctor to make an examination of the disabled individual, also referred to as the ward, and appoint an attorney to represent the ward’s interests. The court will then typically hold a hearing to determine whether a guardianship and/or conservatorship should be established. If so, the ward would no longer have the ability to make his or her own medical or financial decisions.  The guardian and/or conservator usually must file annual reports on the status of the ward and his finances.

Guardianships and conservatorships can be an expensive legal process, and in many cases they are not necessary or could be avoided with a little advance planning. One way is with a financial power of attorney, and advance directives for healthcare such as living wills and durable powers of attorney for healthcare. With those documents, a mentally competent adult can appoint one or more individuals to handle his or her finances and healthcare decisions in the event that he or she can no longer take care of those things. A living trust is also a good way to allow someone to handle your financial affairs – you can create the trust while you are alive, and if you become incompetent someone else can manage your property on your behalf.

In addition to establishing durable powers of attorney and advanced healthcare directives, it is often beneficial to apply for representative payee status for government benefits. If a person gets VA benefits, Social Security or Supplemental Security Income, the Social Security Administration or the Veterans’ Administration can appoint a representative payee for the benefits without requiring a conservatorship. This can be especially helpful in situations in which the ward owns no assets and the only income is from Social Security or the VA.

When a loved one becomes mentally or physically handicapped to the point of no longer being able to take care of his or her own affairs, it can be tough for loved ones to know what to do. Fortunately, the law provides many options for people in this situation.  
 

 

 


Monday, February 06, 2012

How Much of Your Estate Will Be Left Out of Your Will? (It’s Probably More Than You Think)

How Much of Your Estate Will Be Left Out of Your Will? (It’s Probably More Than You Think)

You’ve hired an attorney to draft your will, inventoried all of your assets, and have given copies of important documents to your loved ones. But your estate planning shouldn’t stop there. Regardless of how well your will is drafted, if you do not take certain steps regarding your non-probate assets, you run the risk of unintentionally disinheriting your chosen beneficiaries from a significant portion of your estate.

A will has no effect on the distribution of certain types of property after your death. Such assets, known as “non-probate” assets are typically transferred upon your death either as a beneficiary designation or automatically, by operation of law.

For example, if your 401(k) plan indicates your spouse as a designated beneficiary, he or she automatically inherits the account upon you passing.  In fact, by law, your spouse is entitled to inherit the funds in your 401(k) account.  If you wish to leave your 401(k) retirement account to someone other than a surviving spouse, you must obtain a signed waiver from your spouse indicating her agreement to waive her rights to the assets in that account.

Other types of retirement accounts also transfer to your beneficiaries outside of a probate proceeding, and therefore are not subject to the provisions of your will.  An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) does not automatically transfer to your spouse by operation of law as is the case with 401(k) plans, so you  must complete the IRA’s beneficiary designation form, naming the heirs you want to inherit the account upon your death. Your will has no effect on who inherits your IRA; the beneficiary designation on file with the financial institution controls who will receive your property.

Similarly, you must name a beneficiary on your life insurance policy. Upon your death, the insurance proceeds are not subject to the terms of a will and will be paid directly to your named beneficiary.

Probate avoidance is a noble goal, saving your loved ones both time and money as they close your estate. In addition to the assets listed above, which must be handled through beneficiary designations, there are other types of assets that may be disposed of using a similar procedure.   These include assets such as bank accounts and brokerage accounts, including stocks and bonds, in which you have named a pay-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary; upon your passing, the asset will be transferred directly to the named beneficiary, regardless of what provisions are in your will. Depending on the state, vehicles may also be titled with a TOD beneficiary.

To make these arrangements, submit a beneficiary designation form to the applicable financial institution or motor vehicle department. Be sure to keep the beneficiary designations current, and provide instructions to your executor listing which assets are to be transferred in this manner.  Most such designations also allow for listing of alternate beneficiaries in case they predecease you.

Another common non-probate asset is real estate that is co-owned with someone else where the deed has a survivorship provision in it.  For example, many deeds to real property owned by married couples are owned jointly by both husband and wife, with right of survivorship.  Upon the passing of either spouse, the interest of the passing spouse immediately passes to the surviving spouse by operation of law, irrespective of any conflicting instructions in your will.  Keep in mind that you need not be married for such a provision to be in effect; joint ownership of real property with right of survivorship can exist among any group of co-owners.  If you want your will to be controlling with regard to disposition of such property, you need to have a new deed prepared (and recorded) that does not have a right of survivorship provision among the co-owners.

You’ve spent a lifetime of hard work to accumulate your assets and it’s important that you take all necessary steps to ensure that your wishes regarding who will get your assets will be honored as you intend. Carve a few hours out of your busy schedule, several times a year, to review all of your deeds and beneficiary designations to make certain that they remain consistent with your objectives.
 

 

 


Friday, December 30, 2011

Important Issues to Consider When Setting Up Your Estate Plan

Important Issues to Consider When Setting Up Your Estate Plan

Often estate planning focuses on the “big picture” issues, such as who gets what, whether a living trust should be created to avoid probate and tax planning to minimize gift and estate taxes. However, there are many smaller issues, which are just as critical to the success of your overall estate plan. Below are some of the issues that are often overlooked by clients and sometimes their attorneys.

Cash Flow
Is there sufficient cash? Estates incur operating expenses throughout the administration phase. The estate often has to pay state or federal estate taxes, filing fees, living expenses for a surviving spouse or other dependents, cover regular expenses to maintain assets held in the estate, and various legal expenses associated with settling the estate.

Taxes
How will taxes be paid? Although the estate may be small enough to avoid federal estate taxes, there are other taxes which must be paid. Depending on jurisdiction, the state may impose an estate tax. If the estate is earning income, it must pay income taxes until the estate is fully settled. Income taxes are paid from the liquid assets held in the estate, however estate taxes could be paid by either the estate or from each beneficiary’s inheritance if the underlying assets are liquid.

Assets
What, exactly, is held in the estate? The owner of the estate certainly knows this information, but estate administrators, successor trustees and executors may not have certain information readily available. A notebook or list documenting what major items are owned by the estate should be left for the estate administrator. It should also include locations and identifying information, including serial numbers and account numbers.

Creditors
Your estate can’t be settled until all creditors have been paid. As with your assets, be sure to leave your estate administrator a document listing all creditors and account numbers. Be sure to also include information regarding where your records are kept, in the event there are disputes regarding the amount the creditor claims is owed.

Beneficiary Designations
Some assets are not subject to the terms of a will. Instead, they are transferred directly to a beneficiary according to the instruction made on a beneficiary designation form. Bank accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, retirement plans, IRAs and most motor vehicles departments allow you to designate a beneficiary to inherit the asset upon your death. By doing so, the asset is not included in the probate estate and simply passes to your designated beneficiary by operation of law.

Fund Your Living Trust
Your probate-avoidance living trust will not keep your estate out of the probate court unless you formally transfer your assets into the trust. Only assets which are legally owned by the trust are subject to its terms. Title to your real property, vehicles, investments and other financial accounts should be transferred into the name of your living trust.
 

 

 


Monday, August 01, 2011

Taking Care of Mom and Dad

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From within Hennepin County Unique Estate Law represents estate planning and elder law clients throughout Minnesota, including Minneapolis, Edina, Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Wayzata, Maple Grove, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Park. The Minnesota law firm of Unique Estate Law focuses on all aspects of estate planning, including specialized wills, trusts, powers of attorney and medical directives for married couples, young families, blended families, single parents, gay families and those going through a divorce. Unique Estate Law also handles probate administration, asset protection, Medical Assistance planning, elder law, business succession planning, adoptions and cabin planning.



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