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Power of Attorney

Why Would I Need a Power of Attorney?

Recently Heard’s article entitled “6 Reasons to Choose a Power of Attorney” provides us with several reasons why you want to have one drafted.

  1. Choose Who Can Make the Decisions on Your Behalf. If you have a signed a power of attorney and later you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions, the agent you named in your POA can step in on your behalf. Without a power of attorney, loved ones will need to go to court to request a conservatorship or guardianship, and that can be expensive.
  2. Guardianship Not Needed. If you fail to sign a comprehensive power of attorney before you become incapacitated, you and your family have few options.

Someone will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or a conservator. The judge will decide who will manage your financial health affairs. The court will also monitor the situation. This can be expensive, and you’ll have no say regarding who will be chosen to serve.

  1. Lets You Discuss Your Wishes. An important decision is who your agent will be. When a parent or loved one decides to sign a power of attorney, it offers the chance to discuss the wishes and the expectation with the family and the person who’s named as an agent in a power of attorney.
  2. Comprehensive Power of Attorney is Preferred. When you age, your needs change. Your POA should reflect it.
  3. Your Intent is Clear. If you become incapacitated, relatives may need to go to court to determine your intent. However, a well-drafted power of attorney provides a healthcare directive, which can eliminate the need for the family members to have arguments or disagree over your wishes.
  4. Avoid Delays. With a comprehensive power of attorney, all the powers required to do effective asset protection planning are included. Note: if a power of attorney doesn’t include the specific power, it can reduce the ability of the agent and may lead to significant setbacks.

Want to write a power of attorney? Contact a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Recently Heard (Jan. 30, 2020) “6 Reasons to Choose a Power of Attorney”

Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Estate Planning, Power of Attorney, Capacity, Healthcare Directive

Revocable Living Trust

Avoiding Probate with a Trust

Privacy is just one of the benefits of having a trust created as part of an estate plan. That’s because assets that are placed in a trust are no longer in the person’s name, and as a result do not need to go through probate when the person dies. An article from The Daily Sentinel asks, “When is a trust worth the cost and effort?” The article explains why a trust can be so advantageous, even when the assets are not necessarily large.

Let’s say a person owns a piece of property. They can put the property in a trust, by signing a deed that will transfer the title to the trust. That property is now owned by the trust and can only be transferred when the trustee signs a deed. Because the trust is the owner of the property, there’s no need to involve probate or the court when the original owner dies.

Establishing a trust is even more useful for those who own property in more than one state. If you own property in a state, the property must go through probate to be distributed from your estate to another person’s ownership. Therefore, if you own property in three states, your executor will need to manage three probate processes.

Privacy is often a problem when estates pass from one generation to the next. In most states, heirs and family members must be notified that you have died and that your estate is being probated. The probate process often requires the executor, or personal representative, to create a list of assets that are shared with certain family members. When the will is probated, that information is available to the public through the courts.

Family members who were not included in the will but were close enough kin to be notified of your death and your assets, may not respond well to being left out. This can create problems for the executor and heirs.

Having greater control over how and when assets are distributed is another benefit of using a trust rather than a will. Not all young adults are prepared or capable of managing large inheritances. With a trust, the inheritance can be distributed in portions: a third at age 28, a third at age 38, and a fourth at age 45, for instance. This kind of control is not always necessary, but when it is, a trust can provide the comfort of knowing that your children are less likely to be irresponsible about an inheritance.

There are other circumstances when a trust is necessary. If the family includes a member who has special needs and is receiving government benefits, an inheritance could make them ineligible for those benefits. In this circumstance, a special needs trust is created to serve their needs.

Another type of trust growing in popularity is the pet trust. Check with a local estate planning lawyer to learn if your state allows this type of trust. A pet trust allows you to set aside a certain amount of money that is only to be used for your pet’s care, by a person you name to be their caretaker. In many instances, any money left in the trust after the pet passes can be donated to a charitable organization, usually one that cares for animals.

Finally, trusts can be drafted that are permanent, or “irrevocable,” or that can be changed by the person who wants to create it, a “revocable” trust. Once an irrevocable trust is created, it cannot be changed. Trusts should be created with the help of an experienced trusts and estate planning attorney, who will know how to create the trust and what type of trust will best suit your needs.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Jan. 23, 2020) “When is a trust worth the cost and effort?”

Key Terms: Trust, Estate Planning Lawyer, Probate, Irrevocable, Revocable, Pet Trust, Special Needs Trust, Heirs, Beneficiaries, Estate Plan

Divorce and Social Security

Extra Social Security Benefits for Divorced People

According to the Social Security Administration, as many as 21% of married couples depend upon their Social Security checks for at least 90% of their retirement income. The same is true for almost half of all single beneficiaries. Therefore, if you are expecting Social Security to make up the larger share of your income during retirement, don’t overlook any possible additional benefits, says the article “Divorced? You could Be Owed Extra Social Security Benefits” from The Motley Fool.

People who have been divorced may have more due them than they expect.

A married person may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on their spouse’s work record, even if they themselves have never worked. However, divorced people are sometimes entitled to benefits based on their ex-spouse’s records, depending upon their situation.

There are a few eligibility requirements. For starters, the marriage must have lasted at least ten years. Second, you can’t have remarried—although if your ex has remarried, this won’t affect your ability to claim based on their record. Finally, the amount received in benefits based on your own work history must be less than the amount that you’d receive in divorce benefits, based on your spouse’s record.

You’ll also need to be at least 62 to start claiming benefits, and in most cases, your ex needs to have started taking benefits before you can receive monthly benefits. There is an exception: you have been divorced for at least 24 continuous months and your spouse is eligible to receive benefits, but just hasn’t started claiming them yet.

Note that you won’t receive the full benefit amount for regular Social Security benefits or those based on your ex’s work history until you claim at your full retirement age (FRA), which is 66, 66 plus a few months or 67, depending upon your birth year. Claim earlier than that, and benefit checks will be smaller, as they would be if you were claiming your own benefits before FRA.

If you are indeed eligible to collect divorce benefits, you may be able to collect additional benefits based on the ex-spouse’s record on top of your own benefits. You won’t get both. However, what you may get is your own benefits, plus a portion—up to 50%—of the amount your ex-spouse is eligible for, if you claim at his or her FRA.

Let’s say you’re receiving $800 a month based on your work record at your FRA. Your ex is eligible to receive $2,000 at her FRA. If you meet all the right requirements, you could collect 50% of her benefits in addition to yours. You could receive $1,000 a month: your $800 and an additional $200 in divorce benefits.

Bear in mind that Social Security is a big government organization, and likely will not make this type of adjustment on your behalf. You’ll have to advocate for yourself, filing for the benefits you believe you deserve and you may need to make more than a few phone calls. However, the additional income would be well worth it.

Reference: The Motley Fool (Jan. 30, 2020) “Divorced? You could Be Owed Extra Social Security Benefits,”

Key Terms: Social Security Administration, Full Retirement Age, FRA, Divorced, Benefits, Ex-Spouse

Credit Card Debts after Death

Does My Mom Have to Pay My Dad’s Credit Card Debt after He Dies?

When a family is grieving after the death of a loved one, the last thing any of them wants to deal with is unpaid debts and debt collectors.

nj.com’s recent article asks “Is mom liable for my dead father’s credit card debt?” The answer: generally, any unpaid debts are paid from the deceased person’s estate.

In many states, family members, including the surviving spouse, typically aren’t required to pay the debts from their own assets, unless they co-signed on the account or loan.

All the stuff that a person owns at the time of death, including everything from money in the bank to their possessions to debts they owe, is called an estate. When the deceased person has debt, the executor of the estate will go through the probate process.

During the probate process, all the deceased’s debts are paid off from the estate’s assets. Some assets—like retirement accounts, IRAs and life insurance proceeds—aren’t included in the probate process. As a result, these accounts may not be available to pay creditors. Other assets can be sold to pay off outstanding debts.

A relative or the estate executor will typically notify any lenders, like credit card companies, when that person passes away. The credit card company will then contact the executor about any balances due. Note: the creditor can’t add any additional fees, while the estate is being settled.

If there’s not enough money in the estate to cover credit card balances, the card issuer may have no recourse. The executor and the heirs aren’t responsible for these debts. Unlike some debts, like a mortgage or a car loan, most credit card debt isn’t secured. Therefore, the credit card company may need to write off that debt as a loss.

You should start learning about the probate process in your state to have the best defense for dealing with creditors and debt collectors.

If you need help, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: nj.com (Jan. 15, 2020) “Is mom liable for my dead father’s credit card debt?”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Probate Court, Inheritance, Executor, IRA, 401(k), Pension, Life Insurance

Probate Court

Be Aware of Probate

Probate is the legal process that happens after a person dies. The court accepts the deceased’s last will, and then the executor can carry out the instructions for the deceased’s estate. However, first he or she must pay any debts and sell assets before distributing any remaining property to the heirs.

If the deceased doesn’t have a will, the probate court will appoint an administrator to manage the probate process, and the court will supervise the process. The Million Acres article entitled asks, “Probate Explained: What Is Probate, and How Does It Work?”

When the will is proven to be legal, the probate judge will grant the executor legal rights to carry out the instructions in the will.

When there’s no will, the probate process can be complicated, because there’s no paper trail that shows what assets belong to what heirs. Tracking down heirs can also be challenging, especially if there’s no surviving spouse and the next of kin is located in a different state or outside the U.S.

Many executors will partner with a probate attorney to help them through the probate process, as well as to assist in filing the required paperwork, notifying creditors, filing taxes and distributing assets. The deceased’s assets must first be located and then formally appraised to determine their value.  Creditors must also be notified after death within a specified period of time.

After the creditors, taxes and fees have been paid on behalf of the estate, any leftover money or assets are distributed to the heirs.

The probate process can be lengthy. Things that can lengthen the process include the state when the deceased was a resident, whether there is a will and whether it is contested by the heirs. The more detailed the will, the simpler the probate process.

The probate process can be expensive, because of court filing fees, creditor notice fees, appraisal fees, tax preparation and filing fees and attorney fees. All of these fees are subtracted from the proceeds of the estate.

Estate planning with a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney involves taking the proper actions to avoid probate. This can reduce the burden for the surviving heir(s) and reduce costs, fees and taxes. Ask your attorney about some of the steps you can take before death to avoid probate.

Reference: Million Acres (Jan. 17, 2020) “Probate Explained: What Is Probate, and How Does It Work?”

Suggested Key Terms: Probate Court, Elder Law Attorney, Estate Planning Attorney, Probate Attorney, Will, Executor, Personal Representative

Long Term Care Insurance

Should I Purchase Long-Term Care Insurance?

According to Covering Katy’s recent article entitled “How to Protect Yourself From Long-term Care Cost,” to answer the question of long-term care, think about two variables: your likelihood of needing long-term care and the cost of the care.

Government statistics show that a person who’s 65 today has nearly a 70% chance of eventually needing some kind of long-term care. The average cost for a private room in a nursing home is about $100,000 per year, and a home health aide costs about $50,000 per year. When you do the math, your chances of needing long-term care are good and it’s expensive. If you needed several years of long-term care, it could seriously deplete your savings.

Since Medicare typically pays only a small part of long-term care costs, you should consider the following options for meeting these expenses:

You could “self-insure” against long-term care expenses, by setting aside some of your investment portfolio for this. However, it looks like you’d have to save a lot of money before you felt you were truly protected. This could be especially tough with the need to save and invest for the other expenses associated with retirement.

When you buy long-term care insurance, you’re moving the risk of paying for long-term care from yourself to an insurance carrier. Some LTC policies pay costs for a set number of years, while others cover you for life. Shop around for a policy that offers the combination of features you think best meet your needs. Long-term care gets more expensive as you get older. Therefore, if you’re interested in this type of coverage, don’t delay in your search.

A “hybrid” policy, like life insurance with a long-term care/chronic illness rider, combines long-term care benefits with those offered by a traditional life insurance policy. As a result, if you were to purchase a hybrid policy, and you never needed long-term care, your policy would pay a death benefit to your beneficiary. Conversely, if you ever do require long-term care, your policy will pay benefits for those expenses. The amount of money available for LTC can exceed the death benefit dramatically. There are quite a few different types of hybrid policies, so do your research before choosing a policy.

While you may decide you’re willing to take the chance of never requiring any type of long-term care, if you think that’s a risk you’d rather not take, look into all your coverage options thoroughly.

Reference: Covering Katy (Jan. 13, 2020) “How to Protect Yourself From Long-term Care Costs”

Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Medicare, Medicaid, Paying for a Nursing Home, Long-Term Care Planning, Long-Term Care Insurance, Assisted Living, Nursing Home Care, Elder Care

Do I need an elder law attorney?

When Do I Need an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law is different from estate law, but they frequently address many of the same issues. Estate planning contemplates your finances and property to best provide for you and your family while you’re still alive but incapacitated. It also concerns itself with the estate you leave to your loved ones when you die, minimizing probate complications and potential estate tax bills. Elder law contemplates these same issues but also the scenario when you may need some form of long-term care, even your eligibility for Medicaid should you need it.

A recent article from The Balance’s asks “Do You or a Family Member Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney?” According to the article there are a variety of options to adjust as economically and efficiently as possible to plan for all eventualities. An elder law attorney can discuss these options with you.

Medicaid is a complicated subject, and really requires the assistance of an expert. The program has rigid eligibility guidelines in the event you require long-term care. The program’s benefits are income- and asset-based. However, you can’t simply give everything away to qualify, if you think you might need this type of care in the near future. There are strategies that should be implemented because the “spend down” rules and five-year “look back” period reverts assets or money to your ownership for qualifying purposes, if you try to transfer them to others. An elder law attorney will know these rules well and can guide you.

You’ll need the help and advice of an experienced elder law attorney to assist with your future plans, if one or more of these situations apply to you:

  • You’re in a second (or later) marriage;
  • You’re recently divorced;
  • You’ve recently lost a spouse or another family member;
  • Your spouse is incapacitated and requires long-term care;
  • You own one or more businesses;
  • You have real estate in more than one state;
  • You have a disabled family member;
  • You’re disabled;
  • You have minor children or an adult “problem” child;
  • You don’t have children;
  • You’d like to give a portion of your estate to charity;
  • You have significant assets in 401(k)s and/or IRAs; or
  • You have a taxable estate for estate tax purposes.

If you have any of these situations, you should seek the help of an elder law attorney.

If you fail to do so, you’ll most likely give a sizeable percentage of your estate to the state, an ex-spouse, or the IRS.

State probate laws are very detailed as to what can and can’t be included in a will, trust, advance medical directive, or financial power of attorney. These laws control who can and can’t serve as a personal representative, trustee, health care surrogate, or attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney.

Hiring an experienced elder law attorney can help you and your family avoid simple but expensive mistakes, if you or your family attempt this on your own.

Reference: The Balance (Jan. 21, 2020) “Do You or a Family Member Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney?”

Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Medicaid, Long-Term Care Planning, Special Needs Trust, Assisted Living, Nursing Home Care, Medicaid Planning Lawyer, Disability, Elder Care, Estate Planning, Wills, Probate Court, Will, Trust, Advance Medical Directive, Power of Attorney, Estate Tax, Divorce, Capacity, Guardianship, Business Succession Planning, Charitable Donation, IRA, 401(k)

Do I need a will?

Seriously, Why Do I Need a Will?

The Times Herald-Record’s article “55 Plus: Four Reasons to Create a Will” provides some tips and important reasons for why you should make a will.

When you create a will with the help of an estate planning attorney, you are able to decide who will execute your estate.

Creating a will and appointing a trusted executor will help make certain that your estate is managed in accordance with your wishes and instructions. If you have a will, you help the people you leave behind. A legally valid will can avoid added costs of legal dealings. If you pass away without a will, the state will decide how your estate is divided.

Creating a will allows you to determine who inherits your estate. Your estate will include your home, motor vehicles, financial accounts and any other personal property you want to pass on to your loved ones. The great thing about a will is that it clearly states the persons or organizations that will receive all or part of your estate after your death.

Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney to help understand your state laws and probate procedures is a wise move.

In your will, you can also decide and designate the person(s) who will care for your minor children. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to appoint a guardian for your minor children, in the event of your death. If you don’t have a will stating a guardianship, a court can make the issue its own and appoint a guardian in your absence. It could be someone you don’t like or someone you hardly know.

By creating a will, you provide several benefits for yourself and your family. A will offers peace of mind that your loved ones will be cared for as you intend, after you’re no longer around.

Finally, a reminder for those with wills and estate plans: review these documents every year or three to be certain that everything is up to date. You want to be sure that your estate plan includes any new spouse, birth or adoption of a child or grandchild, death of a relative and change in your financial situation.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Jan. 6, 2020) “55 Plus: Four Reasons to Create a Will”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Attorney, Will, Guardianship, Trust

Adding a child to the title on your home

Can I Add an Adult Daughter to the Title of a Home?

It’s surprising that the lender wouldn’t allow this 77-year-old widowed woman to add her daughter to the title of her your home, says The Ledger’s recent article “Leaving your home to a family member? Consider these options.” Typically, the mortgage lender likes to make sure that the borrower on the loan is the same as the owners on the title to the property. However, if a senior wanted to add her daughter, it’s not uncommon for a lender to allow a non-borrower spouse or child to be on the title but not on the loan. When the lender permits this, all the loan documents are signed by the borrower and a few documents would also be signed by the non-borrowing owner of the home.

In this situation where the mother closed on the loan, and the lender refused to put the daughter on the title to the home, there are a few options. One option is to do nothing but be certain sure that there’s a valid will in place with instructions that the home is to go to the daughter. When the mother passes away, the daughter would have to wait while the will is probated, then transfer the title to her name or sell the place. The probate process will increase some costs and can be a little stressful, especially if someone is grieving the loss of a family member.

A second option is for the mother to create a living trust and transfer the title of the home to the trust—she would be the owner and trustee. The mother would name her daughter as the successor beneficiary and trustee of the trust. Upon the mother’s death, the daughter would assume the role of trustee.

The next option is a transfer on death (or “TOD”) instrument. Some real estate professionals don’t like to use this document. It may not be acceptable depending on state law, but the TOD would allow the mother to record a document now that would state that upon her death the home would go to her daughter.

Finally, the mother could transfer ownership of the home to her daughter and herself with a quitclaim deed to hold the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Upon mother’s death, the home would automatically become the daughter’s home. However, this type of transfer of the home might trigger the lender’s “due on sale” requirement in the mortgage. Thus, if the lender wanted to be a stickler, they could argue that the mother violated the terms of that loan and is in default.

It is also worth mentioning that there may be tax consequences for the daughter. If the mother goes with the last option and puts her daughter on the title to the property, she’s in effect gifting her half of the value of the home. This may cause tax issues in the future, because the daughter will forfeit her ability to get a stepped-up basis. However, if the daughter gets title to the home through a will, the living trust or the transfer on death instrument, she’ll inherit the home at the home’s value at or around the time of the mother’s death (the stepped-up basis). You should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to get the best advice.

Reference: The Ledger (Jan. 11, 2020) “Leaving your home to a family member? Consider these options”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Probate Court, Inheritance, Trustee, Revocable Living Trust, Probate Attorney, Tax Planning, Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship, Transfer on Death (TOD)

Inheriting a House

Inheriting a House? What You Need to Know

There are choices when someone inherits a house. However, they depend on several factors. Are there other siblings who also have inherited portions of the ownership of the house? Is there another owner who needs to be bought out? Can the heir afford to take on the responsibilities and expenses of a home? These are all questions presented in the article “What to do when inheriting a house” from The Mercury.

There’s a tax issue to consider, for starters. Property that was titled in the name of the decedent at the time of death and then inherited, receives what is called a “step-up” in basis. This means that there is no federal tax due on the appreciation in value from the time the person purchased the home to the time that the person died.

Let’s say the person bought the home for $100,000 and it’s now worth $300,000. The federal government will not tax the $200,000 difference between the original value and the DOD (Day of Death) value of the home. If the heir obtains an appraisal shortly after the death of the home owner and then moves in or if you already live there and the house is transferred into your name, the “clock” starts running again for another tax break, which is an additional $250,000 exclusion from capital gains on resale after you have lived there for two years.

This all assumes that any other beneficiaries have been satisfied as to the ownership of the house. A good elder law estate attorney will be able to help with the details, including the transfer of title.

Another issue: is there a mortgage on the house? If so, the new owner may need to satisfy the lender and refinance. If the heir has enough money to meet monthly payments, a strong credit rating to be able to get a mortgage and enough income to maintain the home, then it should be a relatively simple transaction.

Have the home inspected before moving in. Is the house in good shape? If repairs need to be done, are they budget-friendly, or will they make the inheritance too expensive to be financially viable?

Property maintenance is another consideration. If the estate can carry costs associated with the property until the property is sold and if the estate can pay for repairs, upgrades and maintenance so the house can be sold for a good price, then that is a reasonable approach to take. If there are other beneficiaries, they should all part of a discussion about how much money is worth investing in the house and what the return on investment will be.

Finally, if the language of the will says “equally to my three children” or language similar to that and one sibling wants to buy out the other two, then an agreement on the value of the house and a plan for working out timing of the sale will need to be created. An estate planning elder law attorney will be able to help create a family settlement agreement that will include an informal accounting, whereby all of the heirs receive their fair share of the inheritance and all sign off that they have agreed to the transaction.

Reference: The Mercury (Jan. 15, 2020) “What to do when inheriting a house”

Suggested Key Terms: Inheritance, Step-Up in Basis, Family Settlement Agreement, Estate Planning Attorney, Elder Lawyer, Mortgage, Valuation, Appraisal

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