Wednesday, September 17, 2014
A Simple Will Is Not Enough
Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer Explains the Minimum Documents You Need to Protect Your Family
I sometimes hear comments like "I just need a simple will" or "Why can't I just get my will on the internet"? I want to be clear that 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. Or worse, the family left behind finds this out when they attempt to settle a loved ones estate. 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.
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. It is crucial that you update these as life changes.
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 based on certain prerequisites (life events such as marriage or at certain ages), you must utilize a trust, either one established during your lifetime (living trust) or one created through instructions provided in a will (testamentary trust). You can further use a trust if you would like any assets remaining at the death of your beneficiary (spouse) to be given to someone of your choosing. This is a popular estate planning tool used for blended families.
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.
Financial Power of Attorney
Do you need someone to assist with your financial matters if you're incapacitated?
Clients often respond to this discussion by explaining that they don't need to appoint a financial agent because they're married and all assets are jointly held. However, the largest asset in most of your estates is likely your retirement account and that is held only in your name. If your spouse ever needs to contact someone regarding your retirement plan, the company will refuse to speak with them without a Power of Attorney.
Medical Power of Attorney/Health Care Directive
Would you like to appoint the person who will make medical decisions on your behalf?
You are able to appoint someone to make your medical decisions if you can't by using a health care directive. Without one, that person (even a spouse) will be forced to go to court to be appointed as a guardian to make such decisions. This can be a costly and lengthy process.
As you can see, there are many things to consider to ensure you have a full and comprehensive estate plan.This is such an important topic that the New York Times published an article how important it is to have more than just a will in the September 5, 2014 issue.
Please contact a Minneapolis estate planning lawyer to help work through the details of your estate.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Is a copy of a will sufficient?
Many people keep their important documents at home where they are easily accessible. It’s not at all uncommon to find people with a filing cabinet or even a shoe box containing passports, account statements, deeds, tax returns, birth certificates and social security cards. Wills are often added to these files once the estate planning process is completed. In choosing to store your important estate planning documents at home, however, you risk having the originals lost or destroyed in the case of fire, flooding or theft. So what happens if the original version of your will is lost or ruined?
When a person dies, Minnesota law determines what must happen in the state probate proceeding. In most cases, the "original" of the will must be submitted to the probate court in the county where the person resided. If the original of the will cannot be located and provided to the court, Minnesota's probate code does permit the submission of a photocopy of that signed will though it may cause a delay.
Should you lose the original copy of your will, the best practice would be for you to execute a new will which would make things easier for your family and loved ones upon your death. In that case there would be better assurances that your wishes were followed and carried out. Preparing a new will should not take much time for your attorney. If you work with Unique Estate Law, we can easily finalize a new original for you. In addition, if you have our Foundational Estate Plan, then you received a free account with Legal Vault and copies of your documents should all be online for your, or your loved ones, to access in case of emergency. If for some reason this is not done, you may wish to execute a document stating the original was destroyed in a flood or fire but that you did not intend to revoke it.
Another option to consider to keep the originals of your estate planning documents safe, even in the face of disaster, is purchasing a fireproof/waterproof safe for your home or rent a safe deposit box with a local bank where you can still easily access your documents but keep them secure off-site. Many of my clients have gun safes and have decided to put their plan in the safe. Also, each county in Minnesota will, for a small fee, store your original will.
If you have any questions on storage of your documents, please contact an estate planning attorney at Unique Estate Law.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Top 5 Overlooked Issues in Estate Planning
In planning your estate, you most likely have concerned yourself with “big picture” issues. Who inherits what? Do I need a living trust? However, there are numerous details that are often overlooked, and which can drastically impact the distribution of your estate to your intended beneficiaries. Listed below are some of the most common overlooked estate planning issuesRead more . . .
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Refusing a Bequest
Most people develop an estate plan as a way to transfer wealth, property and their legacies on to loved ones upon their passing. This transfer, however, isn’t always as seamless as one may assume, even with all of the correct documents in place. What happens if your eldest son doesn’t want the family vacation home that you’ve gifted to him? Or your daughter decides that the classic car that was left to her isn’t worth the headache?
When a beneficiary rejects a bequest it is technically, or legally, referred to as a "disclaimer." This is the legal equivalent of simply saying "I don't want it." The person who rejects the bequest cannot direct where the bequest goes. Legally, it will pass as if the named beneficiary died before you. Thus, who it passes to depends upon what your estate planning documents, such as a will, trust, or beneficiary form, say will happen if the primary named beneficiary is not living.
Now you may be thinking why on earth would someone reject a generous sum of money or piece of real estate? There could be several reasons why a beneficiary might not want to accept such a bequest. Perhaps the beneficiary has a large and valuable estate of their own and they do not need the money. By rejecting or disclaiming the bequest it will not increase the size of their estate and thus, it may lessen the estate taxes due upon their later death.
Another reason may be that the beneficiary would prefer that the asset that was bequeathed pass to the next named beneficiary. Perhaps that is their own child and they decide they do not really need the asset but their child could make better use of it. Another possible reason might be that the asset needs a lot of upkeep or maintenance, as with a vacation home or classic car, and the person may decide taking on that responsibility is simply not something they want to do. By rejecting or disclaiming the asset, the named beneficiary will not inherit the "headache" of caring for, and being liable for, the property.
To avoid this scenario, you might consider sitting down with each one of your beneficiaries and discussing what you have in mind. This gives your loved ones the chance to voice their concerns and allows you to plan your gifts accordingly.
Thursday, April 03, 2014
Your Wishes in Your Words
During the estate planning process, your attorney will draft a number of legal documents such as a will, trust and power of attorney which will help you accomplish your goals. While these legal documents are required for effective planning, they may not sufficiently convey your thoughts and wishes to your loved ones in your own words. A letter of instruction is a great compliment to your “formal” estate plan, allowing you to outline your wishes with your own voice.
This letter of instruction is typically written by you, not your attorney. Some attorneys may, however, provide you with forms or other documents that can be helpful in composing your letter of instruction. Whether your call this a "letter of instruction" or something else, such a document is a non-binding document that will be helpful to your family or other loved ones.
There is no set format as to what to include in this document, though there are a number of common themes.
First, you may wish to explain, in your own words, the reasoning for your personal preferences for medical care especially near the end of life. For example, you might explain why you prefer to pass on at home, if that is possible. Although this could be included in a medical power of attorney, learning about these wishes in a personalized letter as opposed to a sterile legal document may give your loved ones greater peace of mind that they are doing the right thing when they are charged with making decisions on your behalf. You might also detail your preferences regarding a funeral, burial or cremation. These letters often include a list of friends to contact upon your death and may even have an outline of your own obituary.
You may also want to make note of the following in your letter to your loved ones:
- an updated list of your financial accounts with account numbers;
- a list of online accounts with passwords;
- a list of important legal documents and where to find them;
- a list of your life insurance and where the actual policies are located;
- where you have any safe deposit boxes and the location of any keys;
- where all car titles are located; the
- names of your CPA, attorney, banker, insurance advisor and financial advisor;
- your birth certificate, marriage license and military discharge papers;
- your social security number and card;
- any divorce papers; copies of real estate deeds and mortgages;
- names, addresses, and phone numbers of all children, grandchildren, or other named beneficiaries.
In drafting your letter, you simply need to think about what information might be important to those that would be in charge of your affairs upon your death. This document should be consistent with your legal documents and updated from time to time.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
When to Involve Children in Estate Planning
When to Involve Adult Children in the Estate Planning Process
Individuals who are beginning the estate planning process may assume it's best to have their adult child(ren) join them in the initial meeting with an estate planning attorney, but this may cause more harm than good.
This issue comes up often in the estate planning and elder law field, and it's a matter of client confidentiality. The attorney must determine who their client is- the individual looking to draft an estate plan or their adult children- and they owe confidentiality to that particular client.
The client is the person whose interests are most at stake. In this case, it is the parent. The attorney must be certain that they understand your wishes, goals and objectives. Having your child in the meeting could cause a problem if your child is joining in on the conversation, which may make it difficult for the attorney to determine if the wishes are those of your child, or are really your wishes.
Especially when representing elderly clients, there may be concerns that the wishes and desires of a child may be in conflict with the best interests of the parent. For example, in a Medicaid and long-term care estate planning context, the attorney may explain various options and one of those may involve transferring, or gifting, assets to children. The child's interest (purely from a financial aspect) would be to receive this gift. However, that may not be what the parent wants, or feels comfortable with. The parent may be reluctant to express those concerns to the attorney if the child is sitting right next to the parent in the meeting.
Also, the attorney will need to make a determination concerning the client's competency. Attorneys are usually able to assess a client's ability to make decisions during the initial meeting. Having a child in the room may make it more difficult for the attorney to determine competency because the child may be "guiding" the parent and finishing the parents thoughts in an attempt to help.
The American Bar Association has published a pamphlet on these issues titled "Why Am I Left in the Waiting Room?" that may be helpful for you and your child to read prior to meeting with an attorney.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Protect Your Family Cabin with a Trust
Protecting Your Vacation Home with a Cabin Trust
Many people own a family vacation home--a lakeside cabin, a beachfront condo--a place where parents, children and grandchildren can gather for vacations, holidays and a bit of relaxation. It is important that the treasured family vacation home be considered as part of a thorough estate plan. In many cases, the owner wants to ensure that the vacation home remains within the family after his or her death, and not be sold as part of an estate liquidation.
There are generally two ways to do this: Within a revocable living trust, a popular option is to create a separate sub-trust called a "Cabin Trust" that will come into existence upon the death of the original owner(s). The vacation home would then be transferred into this Trust, along with a specific amount of money that will cover the cost of upkeep for the vacation home for a certain period of time. The Trust should also designate who may use the vacation home (usually the children or grandchildren). Usually, when a child dies, his/her right to use the property would pass to his/her children.
The Cabin Trust should also name a Trustee, who would be responsible for the general management of the property and the funds retained for upkeep of the vacation home. The Trust can specify what will happen when the Cabin Trust money runs out, and the circumstances under which the vacation property can be sold. Often the Trust will allow the children the first option to buy the property.
Another method of preserving the family vacation home is the creation of a Limited Liability Partnership to hold the house. The parents can assign shares to their children, and provide for a mechanism to determine how to pay for the vacation home taxes and upkeep. An LLP provides protection from liability, in case someone is injured on the property.
It is always wise to consult with an estate planning attorney about how to best protect and preserve a vacation home for future generations.
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, November 18, 2013
Updating Your Estate Plan, Part II: Signs It's Time to Update Your Estate Plan
A Minnesota Estate Planning and Probate Attorney Lists 20 Red Flags That Signal When Your Will or Living Trust is Out of Date
I offer clients the opportunity to sit down with me and review their estate plans at least once each year. However, this doesn’t mean you should wait until your next review if your circumstances change. This Estate Planning Checklist identifies events that could make a significant impact on your estate. If any of these events occurs, please call me. For your protection, we may need to amend or revise one or more of your estate planning documents.
Changes Involving You or Your Spouse/Partner
1. You get married.
2. You and your spouse divorce or partner break up.
3. Your spouse/partner dies or becomes incapacitated.
4. Your health changes.
Changes Involving Your Children, Grandchildren or Other Beneficiaries
5. You have a child.
6. You adopt a child.
7. Your child marries.
8. Your child divorces.
9. Your child becomes ill.
10. One of your beneficiaries experiences an economic change, good or bad.
11. One of your beneficiaries proves to be financially irresponsible.
12. One of your beneficiaries has a change in attitude toward you.
Changes in Your Economic Condition
13. The value of your assets increases or decreases.
14. Your insurability for life insurance changes.
15. Your employment changes.
16. Your business interests change, such as becoming involved in a new partnership or corporation.
17. You retire from your business or profession.
18. You acquire property in a different state.
19. You move to a different state.
Changes to a Person Named in Your Estate Plan
20. Something happens to a person named in your estate plan, such as the death or incapacity of your personal representative, executor, trustee, guardian or conservator.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Updating Your Estate Plan, Part I: Why Your Plan May Need Maintenance.
Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer Explains Why Your Estate Plan Needs Maintenance
When you buy a new car, everything works perfectly. (At least, you hope it does.) But then in 3,000 miles, it’s time for an oil change. Also, you must keep your eye on the level of coolant in the radiator, your transmission fluid, and your power steering fluid. You must make sure your alternator works to keep the battery charged.
What happens if you don’t maintain your car? Your engine could burn up. Your transmission could fail. Your car could overheat. Your battery could go dead. All of which mean you’re stuck on the side of the road trying to hitchhike to the nearest town.
Your estate plan is like your car. When you set it up, everything is current and accurate. But you need to keep your eye on your assets, insurance, Powers of Attorney, gifting program, distribution plan, successor trustees, beneficiaries, and so much more. That’s why it’s important that you meet with your estate planning attorney every year.
You wouldn’t think of going on a long trip without making sure that your car was in tip-top shape. Yet every day, people embark on the long trip we call life. And the problem with our “life trip” is that we’re never sure when that trip might end. It’s a good idea to review your estate plan with your lawyer every year or two to see if changes in your family’s circumstances need to be reflected in your estate plan.
For example: You should review your estate plan with your estate planning attorney any time (1) you get married, (2) you go through a break up or divorce, (3) your partner/spouse dies or becomes incapacitated, (4) your health changes, (5) you have or adopt a child, (6) your children marry or divorce, (7) a potential problem arises with a beneficiary, (8) the value of your assets changes, (9) your employment changes, (10) your business interests change, (11) you retire, (12) you acquire property in another state, (13) you move to a different state, or (14) something happens to a person named in your estate plan that could affect your relationship or the duties they are to perform on your behalf.
But wait. Is your estate plan really like your car? It’s more accurate to say it’s like a fire engine -- ready to handle any emergency at a moment’s notice. When your spouse has a heart attack, you want the paramedics -- right now! You don’t want to call 9-1-1 and have the dispatcher explain to you that the fire truck has a dead battery. Or a flat tire.
It would be ridiculous to buy a new fire engine, back it into the fire station where it waits for the next emergency, and then not have a mechanic check under the hood for a year. Do you know how many things can go wrong with a fire truck’s engine if it goes without service for a year?
Yet that’s exactly what people do with their estate plans. They invest hard-earned money to set up their plans. Then they put their plans in a drawer or safe deposit box where they gather dust for 2 years, 5 years, even 10 years -- often without updating the plan even once!
And then, when these people have an emergency, do you know what happens? They dig out their paper-work only to learn that their plan no longer works. You see, it was custom designed to fit their specific needs 5 years ago. But now their needs, and often the law, have changed -- and no one updated the plan. What a tragedy!
Your estate plan must be fully operational, ready to handle any emergency at a moment’s notice. If your spouse has a heart attack and cannot make medical decisions, you don’t want the nurse at the hospital to explain that the legislature changed the law and now your Powers of Attorney are no longer valid. Or, if your spouse dies, you don’t want the judge to tell you that your estate must go through probate because your Revocable Living Trust has not been properly maintained and updated.
You need your estate plan to be ready for any emergency -- 24 hours a day -- because you never know when you might need it.
An out-of-date estate plan isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But a current estate plan that works precisely the way it should -- protecting your family and safeguarding your assets -- is the greatest gift of love you can give to your family, your spouse, and yourself. Your custom designed estate plan, created specifically for you -- combined with yearly maintenance meetings to keep your estate plan in tip-top shape -- are the best investment you’ll ever make. I guarantee it.
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
19 Smart Ways to Protect Your Assets
Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer Explains How to Protect Your Assets
Smart Way #1: Make a promise to yourself -- now. Make a personal commitment to yourself and your family that you will do everything possible to protect your family and your assets.
Smart Way #2: Identify your personal and financial goals. If you could have anything you want, personally and financially, what would it be? What are your dreams? How do you and your spouse want to spend your retirement years?
Smart Way #3: Discover which tools you can use to achieve those goals. You have many legal tools at your disposal that, when used correctly, will create exactly the plan you want for yourself and your family. Ask your estate planning attorney to explain the tools that will achieve your personal and financial goals.
Smart Way #4: Avoid probate and the Court system, as appropriate. Create a family estate plan that, upon your death, distributes your assets to your heirs without going through the Court-supervised process called probate. Most often a Revocable Living Trust is used for this purpose.
Smart Way #5: Reduce income taxes whenever possible. Create a family asset protection plan that eliminates unnecessary income and capital gains taxes and minimizes all other taxes. Without proper planning, much of your estate can be lost to various types of taxes.
Smart Way #6: Protect yourself with insurance. Lawsuits can quickly tie up your assets. And if the other party wins the lawsuit, the judgment against you could quickly deplete your funds. If you drive frequently, own rental property, or operate a business, buy an umbrella liability policy that protects your assets from lawsuits.
Smart Way #7: Provide for future health care and financial decisions. Your family estate plan should protect you and your spouse if the time comes when either of you cannot make decisions. Your estate planning attorney can make sure you have the legal documents in place so a competent, trusted person can make these important decisions according to your wishes.
Smart Way #8: Plan now to fund nursing home care. Sadly, many people think the only way they can pay for their nursing home care is by spending down their estate. But, in fact, you can fund your long-term care in ways that do not require that you spend down your estate. One common way is with long-term care insurance. Don’t wait until it’s too late to decide how to fund your nursing home care. Do it now, long before you need it.
Smart Way #9: Pay close attention to Alzheimer’s disease and its associated costs -- even if you have no reason to worry about it. Many people who never expect Alzheimer’s disease to strike have had to face its problems with no advance planning. So, plan for Alzheimer’s disease now, while you have time. This includes the need to address issues of backup decision-makers, assisted living, and nursing home care. If your children can care for you later in life, that’s fine. If they cannot, your advance planning will pay big dividends. Plan for the worst -- and hope for the best. Then, in either case, you will have all your bases covered.
Smart Way #10: Keep all control within your family. If you don’t plan properly, you could find that a friend or relative has petitioned the Court to intervene on your behalf. Once a judge gets involved, you have ongoing legal and accounting expenses, plus more problems and hassles than you would ever want to endure. The smart way to plan for your later years is to keep total control within your family.
Smart Way #11: Create your plan now, while everyone involved is competent to make decisions. Seniors often come to our office seeking help only to learn that they are too late to correct a terrible situation. We feel awful when we must tell them that the much-needed planning should have been done two, five or ten years earlier. Don’t wait until you need help to create your plan. By then, it’s too late.
Smart Way #12: Review your plan at least once a year. Every time your circumstances change or your goals change, you should change your estate plan. If your plan is not up to date, the unintended consequences to you and your family could be disastrous. Make an appointment at least every year to meet with your estate planning attorney. Then you can go over your plan and discuss any changes in your life circumstances.
Smart Way #13: Make proper decisions concerning your retirement benefit distributions. Make sure your estate plan maximizes income-tax-free deferrals and minimizes income and estate taxes.
Smart Way #14: Work closely with your physician about your Medicare coverage. Often skilled nursing services and home health coverage are terminated or denied with little or no input from your treating physician. Before you go without health care that could be covered by Medicare, talk with your physician about your concerns so that he or she can help you get the Medicare coverage you deserve.
Smart Way #15: Think about future housing options. Start from the perspective of where you would like to live. Then determine if you could afford this option by comparing your monthly income along with your life savings to the initial cost and the ongoing financial commitment you would have to make. Make sure you consider (1) your healthcare needs that will not be covered by insurance, (2) financial security for your surviving spouse, and (3) your desire to pass on a legacy to your children.
Smart Way #16: If you are in a second marriage, decide how you will handle the high cost of nursing home care. If you are not able to pay $5,000 per month to a nursing home and want your children from an earlier marriage to receive your property, a Marital Agreement alone will not do the trick. Medicaid ignores these contracts and considers all of the couple’s assets, whether owned jointly or individually, in determining Medicaid eligibility. A better choice is to include in your Marital Agreement a provision that requires each spouse to obtain and maintain long-term care insurance. Also, you can include additional provisions that clearly state that the healthy spouse is able to take all necessary steps to protect his or her separate property from a Medicaid “spend-down.”
Smart Way #17: Keep the lines of communication open within your family. If one of your children will be managing your finances, you should take specific steps to help him or her avoid conflict within your family. Insist that your child disclose to other family members what has been done on your behalf. You can do this by adding this instruction to your Trust or General Durable Power of Attorney. By doing this you accomplish two things: One, you keep everyone in the loop so feelings of distrust are eliminated. And two, you reduce the risks of financial abuse because other family members will know how your finances are being managed.
Smart Way #18: Don’t let incapacity put your family at risk for criminal or social worker investigations. Many professionals are responsible for protecting frail and elderly people from predators. If your legal documents don’t provide clear legal authority and guidance on how to manage your assets, the police or adult protective services could step in and question your children’s actions and motives. If authorities investigate your children’s actions, at worst, they could file criminal charges. At best, an investigation by adult protective services could return a “finding” of no current financial abuse. You can eliminate these risks to your children -- and avoid becoming a burden to your children -- with a competent estate plan.
Smart Way #19: Hire a competent, experienced estate planning attorney to create an estate plan. The areas of estate planning and elder law are far too complex to hire just any attorney. Often, strategies used in estate planning to minimize taxes directly conflict with strategies used in elder law planning to protect assets and achieve Medicaid eligibility for nursing home care. In situations where both goals are important, you and your family need a lawyer who has in-depth knowledge and experience with both sets of rules and strategies. Most attorneys are not qualified to provide these services. Make sure the estate planning attorney you hire has the knowledge, skill, judgment, and experience to create a competent plan for you and your family.
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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.