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Do Right By Your Pet. Be careful with your Will.

Are you a pet parent? Many people consider their pets as members of their family. So it’s only natural you’d want to make sure your pet is provided for in your estate plan, so when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved companion won’t end up in an animal shelter or worse.

However, under the law, pets are considered personal property. So you can’t just name them as a beneficiary in your will or trust. If you do name your pet as a beneficiary in your plan, whatever money you tried to leave to it would go to your residuary beneficiary (the individual who gets everything not specifically left to your other named beneficiaries), who would have no obligation to care for your pet.

Be careful when relying on a Will

Since you can’t name your pet as a beneficiary, you might consider leaving your pet and money for its care in your will to a trusted person who would be your pet’s new caregiver. But note that your pet’s new caregiver would not be legally obligated to use the funds properly,  even if you leave them detailed instructions for your pet’s care. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all of the money for themselves and drop off your beloved friend at the local shelter.

You’d like to think that you could trust someone to take care of your pet if you leave him or her money in your will to do so. But it’s impossible to predict what circumstances might arise in the future that could make adopting your pet impossible.

Also, a will is required to go through the court process known as probate, which can last for months, leaving your pet in limbo until probate is finalized. And remember that a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion.

Pet trusts offer the ideal option

Consider a pet trust in a revocable living trust in order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and the money you leave for its care is used exactly as intended.

By creating a pet trust, in a revocable living trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver can use the funds in the trust. And unlike a will, a pet trust does not go through probate, so it goes into effect immediately and works in cases of both your incapacity and death.

Also, a  pet trust allows you to name a trustee, who is legally bound to manage the trust’s funds and ensure your wishes for the animal’s care are carried out in the manner the trust spells out. And to provide a system of checks and balances to ensure your pet’s care, you might want to name someone other than the person you name as caregiver as trustee.

In this way, you’d have two people invested in the care of your pet and seeing that the money you leave for its care is used wisely.

Do right by your pet

To ensure your pet trust is properly created and contains all of the necessary elements, meet with Myrna Serrano Setty. With Myrna’s guidance and support, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your beloved pet will receive the kind of love and care it deserves when you’re no longer around to offer it. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she  ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us today at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this valuable session at no charge.

Avoiding Disputes Over Your Estate Plan – Part 1

Avoiding Disputes Over Your Estate Plan – Part 1  

No matter how well you think you know your family, it’s impossible to predict their behavior when you die or become incapacitated. Nobody wants to believe their family would ever end up fighting in Court over inheritance issues or  life-saving medical treatment. But sadly, we see this happen all the time.

When tragedy strikes, even minor tensions and disagreements can explode into bitter conflict. And when money is at stake, there’s even a greater risk for conflict.

The good news is you can drastically reduce the odds of such conflict through estate planning. You can do this with the support of a lawyer who understands and can anticipate these dynamics. This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced law firm like ours when creating your estate plan. Never rely on generic, do-it-yourself planning documents found online.

By learning about some of the leading causes of such disputes, you’re in a better position to prevent those situations.

#1 Reason for Conflict: Putting the Wrong Person in Charge

Many estate planning disputes happen  the person you chose to handle your affairs after your death or incapacity fails to carry out his or her responsibilities properly. Whether it’s as your power of attorney agent, executor, or trustee, these roles can entail a variety of different duties, some of which can last for years.

The individual you select, known as a fiduciary, is legally required to carry out those duties and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries named in your plan. The failure to do either of those things, is referred to as a breach of fiduciary duty.

The breach can be the result of the person’s deliberate action, or it could be something he or she does unintentionally, by mistake. Either way, a breach—or even the perception of one—can cause serious conflict among your loved ones. This is especially true if the fiduciary attempts to use the position for personal gain, or if the improper actions negatively impact the beneficiaries.

Common breaches include failing to provide required accounting and tax information to beneficiaries, improperly using estate or trust assets for the fiduciary’s personal benefit, making improper distributions, and failing to pay taxes, debts, and/or expenses owed by the estate or trust.

If a suspected breach occurs, beneficiaries can sue to have the fiduciary removed, recover any damages they incurred, and even recover punitive damages if the breach was committed out of malice or fraud.

Solution

Carefully choose your fiduciaries and make sure everyone in your family knows why you chose the fiduciary you did. You should only choose the most honest, trustworthy, and diligent individuals. Be careful not to select those who might have potential conflicts of interest with beneficiaries.

Moreover, it’s vital that your planning documents contain clear terms spelling out a fiduciary’s responsibilities and duties, so the individual understands exactly what’s expected of him or her. And should things go wrong, you can add terms to your plan that allow beneficiaries to remove and replace a fiduciary without going to court.

We can help you choose most qualified fiduciaries and draft the precise, explicit, and understandable terms in all of your planning documents. We can also help your family understands your choices, so they do not end up in conflict when it’s too late. That way, the individuals you choose to carry out your wishes will have the best chances of doing so successfully—and with as little conflict as possible.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series discussing common causes for dispute over estate planning. 

Myrna can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Planning Session. This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty, Personal Family Lawyer®. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why she offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call us at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and ask how to get this $500 session at no charge.

When a Will Isn’t Enough to Avoid Conflict: Remember Your Personal Property

“When the parents are gone, there’s all kinds of unforeseen stuff they leave us with, stuff they never intended.” – Ira Glass, in This American Life, Episode 763: “Left Behind”

If you grew up with siblings, you probably remember some sibling rivalry. That rivalry can continue well into adulthood, especially after the parents are gone. In many families, parents are like the glue that keeps the family together. Once their gone, old issues can resurface, especially when it comes to dividing the parents’ personal property.  That’s why it’s important to have a plan for how you want your personal, sentimental property distributed to the people that you love. If you don’t, that can make an already tough situation so much worse.

This American Life, a popular podcast, recently featured a family with such a story. Eleven adult siblings needed to divide their dead parents’ stuff. But they didn’t all get along. Although their parents (who were both attorneys) had wills, they didn’t list in their will which child would get which items. They left all that to the kids, saying simply, everyone should get an equal amount. So the siblings invented a remarkably elaborate cheat-proof system to divide up the remains of their childhood. In the end, it was a system that played off the siblings’ natural suspicions towards each other and did nothing to bring them closer together after losing their parents.

Here’s a quote from the narrator:

“What they have left to them is just these things, right? And this mandate– to get along well enough one last time to split it up amongst themselves. And they don’t want to screw it up. They want to honor their parents’ last request. But they know it’s going to be tough for them, given how they are sometimes with each other.”

This is an example of incomplete planning that can lead to conflict after you’re gone. If the parents in this story had left a personal property memorandum that referred back to their Wills, that could have reduced the strain on their children, especially the estate’s executor. It would have also saved a lot of time and conflict….and their relationships with each other.

You can listen to this story (16 minute run time) here.

Or you can read the transcript here. 

 

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to find out how to get this session at no charge. Call us at (813) 514-2946.

Check out another blog post about embracing the emotional side of estate planning. Here

Fear of Losing Home to Medicaid Contributed to Elder Abuse Case

A California daughter and granddaughter’s fear of losing their home to Medicaid may have contributed to a severe case of elder abuse.

If they had consulted with an elder law attorney, they might have figured out a way to get their mother the care she needed and also protect their house.

Amanda Havens was sentenced to 17 years in prison for elder abuse after her grandmother, Dorothy Havens, was found neglected, with bedsores and open wounds, in the home they shared.  The grandmother died the day after being discovered by authorities.  Amanda’s mother, Kathryn Havens, who also lived with Dorothy, is awaiting trial for second-degree murder. According to an article in the Record Searchlight, a local publication, Amanda and Kathryn knew Dorothy needed full-time care, but they did not apply for Medicaid on her behalf due to a fear that Medicaid would “take” the house.

It is a common misconception that the state will immediately take a Medicaid recipient’s home.

Nursing home residents do not automatically have to sell their homes in order to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, the home will not be considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes as long as the nursing home resident intends to return home. In other states, the nursing home resident must prove a likelihood of returning home. The state may place a lien on the home, which means that if the home is sold, the Medicaid recipient would have to pay back the state for the amount of the lien.

After a Medicaid recipient dies, the state may attempt to recover Medicaid payments from the recipient’s estate, which means the house would likely need to be sold.

But there are things Medicaid recipients and their families can do to protect the home.

A Medicaid applicant can transfer the house to the following individuals and still be eligible for Medicaid:

  • The applicant’s spouse
  • A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled
  • Into a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances)
  • A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home
  • A  “caretaker child” who is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant’s institutionalization and who during that period provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.

With advance planning, there are other ways to protect a house.

A life estate can let a Medicaid applicant continue to live in the home, but allows the property to pass outside of probate to the applicant’s beneficiaries. Certain trusts can also protect a house from estate recovery.

Don’t let a fear of Medicaid prevent you from getting your loved one the care they need. While the thought of losing a home is scary, there are things you can do to protect the house.

Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why our firm offers a Planning Session. The Planning Session helps you get more financially organized than ever and helps you make the best choices for the people you love.  Start by calling us today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session for free.

Call us at (813) 514-2946 or email us at info@www.tampaestateplan.com.

Be On the Look Out for New Medicare Cards

The federal government is issuing new Medicare cards to all Medicare beneficiaries. To prevent fraud and fight identity theft, the new cards will no longer have beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers on them.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is replacing each beneficiary’s Social Security number with a unique identification number, called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). Each MBI will consist of a combination of 11 randomly generated numbers and upper case letters. The characters are “non-intelligent,” which means they don’t have any hidden or special meaning. The MBI is confidential like the Social Security number and should be kept similarly private.

The CMS will begin mailing the cards in April 2018 in phases based on the state the beneficiary lives in. The new cards should be completely distributed by April 2019. If your mailing address is not up to date, call 800-772-1213, visit www.ssa.gov, or go to a local Social Security office to update it.

The changeover is attracting scammers who are using the introduction of the new cards as a fresh opportunity to separate Medicare beneficiaries from their money. According to Kaiser Health News, the scams to look out for include phone calls with callers:

  • claiming to be from Medicare looking for your direct deposit number and using the new cards as an excuse,
  • asking for your Social Security number to verify information,
  • claiming Medicare recipients need to pay money to receive a temporary card, or
  • threatening to cancel your insurance if you don’t give out your card number.

There is no cost for the new cards. It is important to know that Medicare will never call, email or visit you unless you ask them to, nor will they ask you for money or for your Medicare number. If you receive any calls that seem suspicious, don’t give out any personal information and hang up. You should call 1-800-MEDICARE to report the activity or you can contact your local Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). To contact your SMP, call 877-808-2468 or visit www.smpresource.org.

For more information about the new cards, click here and here.

For more information about Medicare, click here.

When Something Is NOT Better Than Nothing- Part 2

In part one of this series, we discussed the hidden dangers of do-it-yourself estate planning. In part two, we cover one of the greatest risks posed by DIY documents.

Maybe you think that you can save time and money with DIY documents you find online.  You’re probably anxious to check estate planning off your life’s to-do list. These forms may tempt you because they seem quick and easy. And you’re busy, so why not? Unfortunately, this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing.

But DIY wills lead to the false sense of security that you have things covered. But the reality is that those generic forms could end up costing your loved ones more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

In this way, DIY wills and other legal documents are among the most dangerous choices you can make for the people you love. These generic documents can leave the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

Children at risk

First, it’s probably distressing to think that by using a DIY will you could force your loved ones into court or conflict if you become incapacitated or die.

Second, if you’re like most parents, it’s probably downright unimaginable to think about your children’s care falling into the wrong hands. But that’s exactly what could happen if you rely on free or fill-in-the-blank wills found online, or even if you hire a lawyer who isn’t equipped or trained to plan for the needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians involves a number of complexities that most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience frequently make at least one of six common mistakes when naming long-term legal guardians.

If wills drafted with professional help are likely to leave your children at risk, the chances that you’ll get things right on your own are pretty much zero.

What could go wrong?

If your DIY will names legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, that’s great. DIY documents are too risky!  Consider these factors.

  1. Does it include back-ups?
  2. If you named a couple to serve, how is that handled? Do you still want one of them if the other is unavailable due to illness, injury, death, or divorce?
  3. What happens if you become disabled and are unable to care for your children? You might assume the guardians named in the DIY will would automatically get custody, but your will isn’t activated if you become disabled.
  4. What if the guardians you named in the will live far away? It would take them a few days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s highly likely that they will be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.
  5. Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, your kids are still at risk because it’s possible they might not be immediately available if and when needed.
  6. And who even knows where your will is or how to access it?

The Kids Protection Plan®

To help ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers (even temporarily), consider creating  a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®, which our firm is trained in.

Get the right “something”

Protecting your family and assets if you die or become incapacitated is too important to do on your own. No matter how busy you are or how little wealth you own, the potential disasters of DIY documents are simply too great.

Plus, proper estate planning doesn’t have to be super expensive, stressful, or time consuming. We offer options for all budgets and asset values.

Also, many of our clients actually find the process highly rewarding. Our systems provide the type of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve not only checked estate planning off your to-do list, but you’ve done it using the most forethought, experience, and knowledge available.

Act now

If  you haven’t done any planning yet, contact us to schedule a Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine if a simple will or some other strategy, such as a living trust, is your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up.

No matter what you do, make sure  have a “something” that’s actually better than nothing. Contact us and we’ll provide you with that level of confidence—and so much more.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing – Part 1

Online you’ll find tons of websites offering cheap wills. Simple wills, for example, often cost less than $50. And you can complete and sign the forms pretty quickly.

In our super-busy lives and DIY culture, this might seem like a good deal. You know estate planning is important, and even though you may not be getting the highest quality plan, those documents can make you feel better for having checked this item off your to-do list.

But this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing, and here’s why:

A False Sense of Security

Creating a DIY will online can lead you to believe that you don’t have to worry about estate planning anymore. You got it done, right?

Except that you didn’t. You thought you “got it done” because you went online, printed a form, and had it notarized.  But you didn’t bother to investigate what would actually happen with that document in place in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

In the end, what seemed like a bargain could end up costing your family more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

Creating a DIY will can lead you to believe that you no longer have to worry about estate planning. In the back of your mind, you might even promise that one day you’ll revisit and update your plan with something better. But chances are, having done “something” will lead you to put this off until it’s too late.

At least if you do nothing,  estate planning will still be on your to-do list. (But then you’re at the mercy of the state’s “default settings,” which might really go against your wishes for yourself and your family.)

It’s More Than Just a Document. 

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that estate planning involves much more than just filling out legal documents. So they end up making serious mistakes with DIY plans. Worst of all, these mistakes are only discovered when you become incapacitated or die, and it’s too late. The people left to deal with your mistakes are often the very ones you were trying to do right by.

The main purpose of wills and other estate planning tools is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. With the growing popularity of DIY wills, thousands of families have learned the hard way that trying to handle estate planning alone can not only fail to fulfill this purpose, it can make the court cases and conflicts far worse and more expensive.

Watch Out For Hidden Dangers!

There are many potential dangers involved with DIY wills and other estate planning documents. Estate planning is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all deal. Even if you think you have a simple situation, that’s almost never the case.

These are some of the most common complications resulting from DIY wills:

#1 Improper execution:

For a will to be valid, it must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following strict legal procedures. Such procedural requirements are designed to prevent foul play and vary by state. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY will doesn’t mention that or you don’t read the fine print and fail to follow this procedure, it can be worthless.

#2 Court challenges:

Before the assets covered in a will can be transferred to your heirs, the will must go through the court process called probate. During probate, creditors, heirs, and other interested parties have the chance to contest your will or make claims against your estate. Though wills created with an attorney’s guidance can also be contested, DIY wills are far more likely to be challenged.

#3 Thinking a will is enough:

Very rarely is a will enough to handle all of your legal affairs. At your incapacity, you would also need a health care directive and/or a living will plus a durable financial power of attorney. At your death, a will does nothing to keep your loved one’s out of court. And if you have minor children, having a will alone could leave your kids at risk of being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers, at least temporarily.

In many ways, DIY will planning is the worst choice you can make for the people you love because you think you’ve got it covered, when you most certainly do not.

If you’ve yet to do any estate planning at all, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or  created a plan with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been updated or reviewed in the past 2 years, call us. We can help keep your family out of court and of conflict when something happens to you.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session,  during which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call us today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

In part two of this series, we cover one of the biggest dangers with DIY wills.

Adulting is Hard. Are you the “family adult”?

In many families, there’s that one person who in times of crisis, rises to the occasion and takes charge. That’s the “family adult.” If you are the “family adult,” you already know it. Unfortunately, it’s a tough job that you didn’t apply for and can’t really quit. And what’s unfair is that things can get worse when it comes to aging relatives. As your relatives age, who do you think your family will turn to for help? You.

Without a well-designed estate plan, families are guaranteed to face emotional or financial crises that not even the “family adult” can fix. As the “family adult,” you can choose to feel resentful of the situation or you can plan ahead and encourage your relatives to create or update their estate plans. Not only will a well-designed estate plan make your life easier, it can help you prevent disasters. And in the event of a death or a medical crisis, you will have the necessary tools to handle the situation.

For example, if your aging parents become incapacitated and can’t handle their own financial matters, with a Durable Power of Attorney, you can help them. Estate planning also involves ensuring that there are enough funds available to pay for health care, rehabilitation or nursing home facilities. If you plan now, before a chronic or terminal illness strikes, you can secure tools like life insurance policies with benefits access riders, which provide cash access for medical care or other expenses. Adulting is hard. With a well-designed estate plan, you will have the tools to do it right.

Give us a call today at (813) 514-2946 to learn about customized estate planning solutions for you and your family.