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Long Distance Caregivers

How Can Long-Distance Caregivers Help Loved Ones?

A recent article noted that long-distance caregivers have the same concerns and pressures as local caregivers, perhaps even more. They spend about twice as much on caregiving as people caring for a loved one nearby, because they’re more likely to need to hire help, take uncompensated time off work and pay for travel. A huge challenge for this group is just staying informed and assured that the person needing care is in good hands. As a result, long-distance caregivers must have good communication and a solid team on the ground.

AARP’s recent article entitled “Long-Distance Caregiving: 5 Key Steps to Providing Care From Afar” provides us with five steps to staying informed and effective as a long-distance caregiver and thoughts for implementing the measures.

  1. Be sure you have access to information. Having a means of receiving good information and possessing legal authority to make financial and health-care decisions is critical for all primary caregivers, but it’s even greater for ones caring from a distance. Arrange as much as you can during an in-person visit.
  • Start the discussion on finances and map out with your loved one how to pay for health care and everyday expenses.
  • Ask whether your parent or other senior is able to sign the forms or make the calls necessary to give doctors, hospitals and insurers permission to share information with you or another trusted family member. This should include banks and utilities.
  • Be sure the senior has designated a durable power of attorney for health care and financial decisions.
  • Know what to do in an emergency, as far as access to the home by a neighbor, if needed.
  1. Create your on-the-ground support team. Don’t try to do it all, especially if your loved one has more serious or complicated health issues. In addition to healthcare professionals, ask friends, family and community groups to join a network of caregiving helpmates. Remember to add your loved one as part of the team.
  • Assign roles and tasks, that the members of the team are willing and able to do.
  • Create a list with contact info for everyone and keep it up to date.
  1. Consider hiring a reputable caregiving professional. They’re often called a geriatric care manager, aging life care manager, or eldercare navigator or coordinator. These professionals are frequently licensed nurses or social workers who can also be valuable mediators or sounding boards, when family members disagree on care decisions.
  • Verify the person’s professional certifications, see how long the person has been in the field and request references.
  • Care managers can charge $50 to $200 an hour. Medicare doesn’t cover this service, nor do most health insurance plans. However, if you can handle it financially, an experienced manager may be able to save your family time, money and stress with even a short call.
  1. Find ways to communicate regularly with your local support group and loved one. You should leverage technology. With permission, place video monitors, wearable activity trackers, remote door locks to prevent wandering (if the care recipient has dementia) and even electronic pill dispensers that can tell you if someone has taken the prescribed medications.
  2. Leverage your visits. Nothing’s better than an in-person visit. When you can manage one, come with a list of things you need to know or discuss.
  • Interview possible home aides or house cleaners or meet with social workers or other professionals involved in your loved one’s care to discuss any concerns.
  • Look for signs of abuse, which means monitoring your senior’s checking account and see if there are any irregularities and look for red flags of physical or emotional mistreatment, like bruises, unexplained injuries, or a sudden change in personality. Note if your family member talks about a person you’ve never met who visits often and has been “very helpful.”

Although you may have several practical tasks to tick off your list, it’s important to spend quality time with your loved one. And seek the advice of a qualified elder law attorney, if you have any questions.

Reference: AARP (Oct. 30, 2019) “Long-Distance Caregiving: 5 Key Steps to Providing Care From Afar”

Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Disability, Elder Abuse, Financial Abuse, Elder Care, Undue Influence, Caregiving, Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Geriatric Care Manager

Siblings Caring for Parents

How Can Siblings Work Together to Care for Dad?

Sibling rivalries can reappear when the family must pull together to help care for an aging parent. This is especially true, if one adult child is doing the bulk of the caregiving and there’s little support from siblings.

The same is true when one sib is paying for professional caregiving or medical expenses. There can also be power struggles between older and younger siblings, who think they know what’s best for Dad and want to have control these types of decisions.

AARP’s recent article entitled “Family Conflict: Primary Caregiver Often Pitted Against Siblings” adds  the fact a parent may have a preference for which child will be the primary caregiver. That can create resentments with siblings. The article provides some smart strategies that can help you navigate potential issues with siblings:

  1. Create consensus. Have a meeting with your siblings and talk about Dad’s condition, the caregiving needs and what may occur going forward. When you’re in agreement, create a caregiving plan that speaks to the part each person will play. Although one person will do most of the work, the other sibs must be supporting players or provide respite care. Make sure to review what’s happening with your Dad and how his needs are changing. Adjust the plan as needed.
  2. Set up a division of labor. Discuss the sibling who’s best suited to which responsibilities based on abilities, financial resources, location to your parent, availability and other factors. You should also, try to be flexible about swapping tasks from one sibling to another, as circumstances changes.
  3. Decide how to communicate. Make sure everyone agrees to keep each another apprised of any changes in your parent’s condition or needs. Get together to determine the preferred way of communication (like group texts or email) for sharing important data between scheduled meetings.
  4. Ask for what’s needed. If you’re the primary caregiver, don’t set yourself up to shoulder every caregiving task or decision. That can create resentment and burnout. Be assertive and direct. Detail the specifics of what you need.

Reference: AARP (Oct. 28, 2019) “Family Conflict: Primary Caregiver Often Pitted Against Siblings”

Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Caregiving

No Estate Plan?

What Happens If I Don’t Have an Estate Plan?

It’s so much better to have a will than not to. With a will, you can direct your assets to those whom you wish to receive a legacy, rather than the default rules of the State. This is according to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle’s entitled “Elder Law: Will you plan now or pay later?”

You should also designate an independent executor. You may want to have an estate planning attorney create a special trust to provide for family members who are disabled, along with trusts for minors and even adult children.

Here are three major items about which you may not have considered that may require changes to your estate plan or motivate you to get one. Years ago, the amount a person could leave to beneficiaries (the tax-free exemption equivalent) was much lower. You were also required to either use it or lose it.

For example, back in 1987 when the exemption equivalent was $600,000 per taxpayer, a couple had to create a by-pass trust to protect the first $600,000 upon the first to die to take advantage of the exemption. The exemption is $11.58 million in 2020, and the “portability” law has changed the “use it or lose it” requirement. There may still be good reasons to use a forced by-pass trust in your will, but in some cases, it may be time to get rid of it.

Next, think about implementing planning to have some control over your assets after you die.

You could have a heart attack, a stroke, or an unfortunate accident. These types of events can happen quickly with no warning. You were healthy and then suddenly a sickness or injury leaves you severely disabled. You should plan in the event this happen to you.

Why would a person not take the opportunity to prepare documents such as powers of attorney for property, powers of attorney for health care, living wills and medical privacy documents?

It’s good to know that becoming the subject of a court supervised guardianship proceeding is a matter of public record for everyone to see. There is also the unnecessary expense and frustration of a guardianship that could’ve been avoided, if you’d taken the time to prepare the appropriate documents with an estate planning or elder law attorney.

Why would you want to procrastinate making a will and then die suddenly without ever taking the time to make your will? Without a valid will, your family will have to pay more for a costly probate proceeding.

Reference: Houston Chronicle (Jan. 16, 2020) “Elder Law: Will you plan now or pay later?”

Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Estate Planning, Wills, Financial Planning, Estate Tax, Gift Tax, Living Will, Advance Directive, Inheritance, Estate Planning, Power of Attorney, Living Will, Guardianship

Storing your will in the cloud?

Can Your Will Be Securely Stored in the ‘Cloud?’

An estate planning attorney has 500 wills with no owners. Most came into his office through several law firm acquisitions. Some of the wills are more than 70 years old. However, the New York State Bar Association’s ethics opinion was that he must continue to store the wills.

Clients frequently ask estate planning attorneys the same question posed by an article “Could your future will be in the cloud?” from the Daily Local News. Should the attorney keep the original will? How would the attorney know if they had a second will done, or if they died and no longer need the will?

While it’s almost always better to return to your original estate planning attorney when revising a will, clients are not required to tell attorneys if they are updating a will with another lawyer. Some estate planning attorneys do keep their clients’ wills, as a service to their clients. It may also be a wise thing if the clients are worried about losing the wills or if they are concerned that their executors won’t be able to find them when the time comes.

However, some attorneys do not keep client wills in their offices. They believe that the best place for an original will is in a fire and water-proof secure safe or box in the client’s home. They also count on their good relationship with clients and their families, who they believe will return to their offices when estate plans need to be updated or estates need to be administered.

The issue of a lost will could be averted, if people are diligent about telling their executors where their wills can be found, and if documents are updated from time to time, as their personal situations and laws change.

However, what about storing documents in a world where so much of our private important information is stored in the “cloud,” that is, on a secure platform that is offered to us by a professional or through an online service?

There are several new laws in a number of states that are looking into electronic wills, with new laws, including the Uniform Electronic Wills Act and State Electronic Will statutes. Electronic wills under the Uniform Act must be stored in a tangible or electronic medium that is “retrievable in perceivable form.” In other words, you have to be able to read it. Attesting witnesses must be in the physical presence of the testator or the electronic presence.

For most of us, the brave new world is still developing, and storage of our wills in the cloud may be a few years in the future. Speak with your estate planning attorney about their practices and recommendations for storage of your will and other important estate planning documents. Inquire about whether they provide a secure online portal for document storage (Yetter & Mays does), and if it is acceptable by law in your state.

Reference: Daily Local News (Feb. 5, 2020) “Could your future will be in the cloud?”

Key Terms: Wills, Estate Planning Attorney, Cloud, Uniform Electronic Wills Act, State Electronic Wills, Online Portal

Gray Divorce

Gray Divorce and Impact on Retirement for Seniors

Add “gray divorce” to the factors leading to strife in estate planning. Minimizing discord among beneficiaries is one of the top three reasons people decide to have estate plans created, but with more gray divorces, things become complicated.

A survey at the 54th Annual Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning conducted by TD Bank asked elder law attorneys, insurance advisors, wealth managers and other professionals on the biggest challenge to estate planning. An article in the Clare County Review titled “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated” explains the problem, and presents some solutions.

Gray divorce, blended families, naming heirs and changing family structures are making it more complicated—and more necessary—to create an estate plan and review it with an estate planning attorney on a regular basis.

More than a third of the 112 professionals participating in the survey said that gray divorce has the biggest impact on retirement planning and funding. It also impacts naming who becomes a person’s power of attorney and how Social Security benefits are determined.

The biggest way to help avoid family conflict in a gray divorce is the same as in any other divorce: regular communication. The family members need to know what is being planned, including who will be the designated beneficiaries and who will be named as executor.

The divorce process is complicated at any age, but after 50, there are usually more assets involved. The spouse is usually listed as the beneficiary on most, if not all, assets. Each asset document must be changed to reflect the new beneficiaries. Dividing pension plans, IRAs, and other retirement funds entails more work than simply changing names on bank accounts (although that also has to happen).

Wills, trusts, life insurance, and titles on real estate must also be changed. Institutions and companies that have accounts must be contacted, with information updated and verified.

Trusts are growing in popularity as a means of leaving assets to heirs, since they can minimize costs and delays when property is transferred. Trusts make it easier to pass assets, if family conflict is expected.

Even when beneficiaries aren’t expecting any cash assets to be left to them, controversies can still erupt over other assets. Adult children may not care about IRAs or trusts, but often the family home has great sentimental value. Deciding what to do with it can lead to fighting among siblings.

For those considering a gray divorce, talking with an estate planning attorney, in addition to a matrimonial attorney, could make this large life change less stressful. The estate planning attorney will be able to work with the matrimonial attorney, to ensure that estate issues are handled properly.

Reference: Clare County Review (February 10, 2020) “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated”

Key Terms: Gray Divorce, Heckerling, IRAs, Beneficiaries, Trusts, Estate Planning Attorney, Matrimonial Attorney, Siblings, Heirs

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

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

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

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

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

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