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Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

In  Part 1 of this series, we discussed how some professional adult guardians have used their powers to abuse the seniors placed under their care. Here, we’ll discuss how seniors can use estate planning to avoid the potential abuse and other negative consequences of court-ordered guardianship.

As our senior population continues to expand, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involving professional guardians have made headlines. The New Yorker exposed one of the most shocking accounts of elder abuse by professional guardians, which took place in Nevada and saw more than 150 seniors swindled out of their life savings by a corrupt Las Vegas guardianship agency.

The Las Vegas case and others like it have shed light on a disturbing new phenomenon—individuals who seek guardianship to take control of the lives of vulnerable seniors and use their money and other assets for personal gain. Perhaps the scariest aspect of such abuse is that many seniors who fall prey to these unscrupulous guardians have loving and caring family members who are unable to protect them.

Keep your family out of court and out of conflict

Outside of the potential for abuse by professional guardians, if you become incapacitated and your family is forced into court seeking guardianship, your family is likely to endure a costly, drawn out, and emotionally taxing ordeal. Not only will the legal fees and court costs drain your estate and possibly delay your medical treatment, but if your loved ones disagree over who’s best suited to serve as your guardian, it could cause bitter conflict that could unnecessarily tear your family apart.

Furthermore, if your loved ones disagree over who should be your guardian, the court could decide that naming one of your relatives would be too disruptive to your family’s relationships and appoint a professional guardian instead—and as we’ve seen, this could open the door to potential abuse.

Planning for incapacity

The potential turmoil and expense, or even risk of abuse, from a court-ordered guardianship can be easily avoided through proactive estate planning. Upon your incapacity, an effective plan would give the individual, or individuals, of your choice immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake about how these crucial decisions should be made during your incapacity.

There are a variety of planning tools available to grant this decision-making authority, but a will is not one of them. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and even then, it simply governs how your assets should be divided. Your incapacity plan should include a variety of planning tools, including some, or all, of the following:

  • Healthcare power of attorney: An advanced directive that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.
  • Living will: An advanced directive that provides specific guidance about how your medical decisions should be made during your incapacity.
  • Durable financial power of attorney: A planning document that grants an individual of your choice the immediate authority to make decisions related to the management of your financial and legal interests.
  • Revocable living trust: A planning document that immediately transfers control of all assets held by the trust to a person of your choosing to be used for your benefit in the event of your incapacity. The trust can include legally binding instructions for how your care should be managed and even spell out specific conditions that must be met for you to be deemed incapacitated.
  • Family/friends meeting: Even more important than all of the documents we’ve listed here, the very best protection for you and the people you love is to ensure everyone is on the same page. As part of our planning process, we’ll walk the people impacted by your plan through a meeting that explains to them the plans you’ve made, why you’ve made them, and what to do when something happens to you.

It could be a good idea (though it’s not mandatory) to name different people for each of the roles in your planning documents. In this way, not only will you spread out the responsibility among multiple individuals, but you’ll ensure you have more than just one person invested in your care and supervision. In that case, it’s even more critical that everyone you’ve named understands the choices you’ve made, and why you have made them.

Don’t wait to put your plan in place

It’s vital to understand that these planning documents must be created well before you become incapacitated. You must be able to clearly express your wishes and consent in order for these planning strategies to be valid, as even slight levels of dementia or confusion could get them thrown out of court. It’s also important that you frequently review and update your estate documents due to changes in assets or relationships.

Retain control even if you lose control

To avoid the total loss of autonomy, family conflict, and potential for abuse that comes with a court-ordered adult guardianship, meet with us. While you can’t prevent your potential incapacity, you can use estate planning to ensure that you at least have some control over your how your life and assets will be managed if it ever does occur.

If you haven’t planned for your incapacity, schedule a Planning Session right away, so we can advise you about the proper planning vehicles to put in place. And if you already have an incapacity plan, we can review it to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated.

Call our office today at (813) 902-3189 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 
pet-trust-estate-planning

How can you use estate planning to take care of your pet?

If you have a pet, he or she probably feels like part of your family.  So it makes sense to take care of your pet if you become incapacitated or pass away. Because if you don’t make any plans, your beloved companion could end up in an animal shelter or worse.

The law looks at pets as personal property. So you can’t just name your pet as a beneficiary of your will or trust without some careful planning.

Be careful with your 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 your pet’s new caregiver would not be legally required use the funds properly. 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 has to go through the court process known as probate, which can last for months. That can leave your pet in limbo for a while.  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.

Consider a pet trust.

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.

This way, 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. That trustee is legally required to manage the trust’s funds and carry out your wishes. 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.

Do right by your pet.

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.

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

How Will The Coming Wealth Transfer Affect Your Family?

Whether it’s called “The Great Wealth Transfer,” “The Silver Tsunami,” or some other catchy-sounding name, it’s a fact that a tremendous amount of wealth will pass from aging Baby Boomers to younger generations in the next few decades. In fact, it’s said to be the largest transfer of inter-generational wealth in history.

Because no one knows exactly how long Boomers will live or how much money they’ll spend before they pass on, it’s impossible to accurately predict just how much wealth will be transferred. But studies suggest it’s somewhere between $30 and $50 trillion. Yes, that’s “trillion” with a “T.”

A blessing or a curse?

And while most are talking about the benefits this asset transfer might have for younger generations and the economy, few are talking about its potential negative ramifications. Yet there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that many people, especially younger generations, are woefully unprepared to handle such an inheritance.

An Ohio State University study found that one third of people who received an inheritance had a negative savings within two years of getting the money. Another study by The Williams Group found that inter-generational wealth transfers often become a source of tension and dispute among family members, and 70% of such transfers fail by the time they reach the second generation.

Whether you will be inheriting or passing on this wealth, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to reduce the potentially calamitous effects such transfers can lead to. Without proper estate planning, the money and other assets that get passed on can easily become more of a curse than a blessing.

Get proactive

There are several proactive measures you can take to help stave off the risks posed by the big wealth transfer. Beyond having a comprehensive estate plan, openly discussing your values and legacy with your loved ones can be a key way to ensure your planning strategies work exactly as you intended. Here’s what we suggest:

Create a plan

If you haven’t created your estate plan yet—and far too many people haven’t—it’s essential that you put a plan in place as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how young you are or if you have a family yet, all adults over 18 should have some basic planning vehicles in place.

From there, be sure to regularly update your plan on an annual basis and immediately after major life events like marriage, births, deaths, inheritances, and divorce. We maintain a relationship with our clients long after your initial planning documents are signed, and our built-in systems and processes will ensure your plan is regularly reviewed and updated throughout your lifetime.

Discuss wealth with your family early and often

Don’t put off talking about wealth with your family until you’re in retirement or nearing death. Clearly communicate with your children and grandchildren what wealth means to you and how you’d like them to use the assets they inherit when you pass away.

When discussing wealth with your family members, focus on the values you want to instill, rather than what and how much they can expect to inherit. Let them know what values are most important to you, and try to mirror those values in your family life as much as possible. Whether it’s saving money, charitable giving, or community service, having your kids live your values while growing up is often the best way to ensure they carry them on once you’re gone.

Communicate your wealth’s purpose

Outside of clearly communicating your values, you should also discuss the specific purpose(s) you want your wealth to serve in your loved ones’ lives. You worked hard to build your family wealth, so you’ve more than earned the right to stipulate how it gets used and managed when you’re gone. Though you can create specific terms and conditions for your wealth’s future use in planning vehicles like a living trust, don’t make your loved ones wait until you’re dead to learn exactly what you want their inheritance used for.

If you want your wealth to be used to fund your children’s college education, provide the down payment on their first home, or invested for their retirement, tell them so. By discussing such things while you’re still around, you can ensure your loved ones know exactly why you made the planning decisions you did.

 Secure your wealth, your legacy, and your family’s future

Regardless of how much or how little wealth you plan to pass on—or stand to inherit—it’s vital that you take steps to make sure that wealth is protected and put to the best use possible.

Call our office today at (813) 902-3189 to schedule a  Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Part 2: The real cost of not planning

This article is part of a series discussing the true costs and consequences of failed estate planning. The series highlights a few of the most common—and costly—planning mistakes we encounter with clients. If the series exposes any potential gaps or weak spots in your plan, meet with us to learn how to do the right […]

More Tips on Creating an Estate Plan That Benefits a Child With Special Needs

Parents want their children to be taken care of after they die. But children with disabilities have increased financial and care needs, so ensuring their long-term welfare can be tricky. Proper planning is necessary to benefit the child with a disability, including an adult child, as well as assist any siblings who may be left with the care taking responsibility.

Special Needs Trusts

The best and most comprehensive option to protect a loved one is to set up a special needs trust (also called a supplemental needs trust). These trusts allow beneficiaries to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose their eligibility for certain government programs, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiaries in determining their eligibility for public benefits.

There are three main types of special needs trusts:

#1 A First-Party Trust

A first-party trust is designed to hold a beneficiary’s own assets. While the beneficiary is living, the funds in the trust are used for the beneficiary’s benefit, and when the beneficiary dies, any assets remaining in the trust are used to reimburse the government for the cost of medical care.

These trusts are especially useful for beneficiaries who are receiving Medicaid, SSI or other needs-based benefits and come into large amounts of money, because the trust allows the beneficiaries to retain their benefits while still being able to use their own funds when necessary.

#2 A Third-Party Trust

The third-party special needs trust is most often used by parents and other family members to assist a person with special needs. These trusts can hold any kind of asset imaginable belonging to the family member or other individual, including a house, stocks and bonds, and other types of investments.

The third-party trust works like a first-party special needs trust in that the assets held in the trust do not affect a beneficiary’s access to benefits and the funds can be used to pay for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs beyond those covered by government benefits. But a third-party special needs trust does not contain the “payback” provision found in first-party trusts. This means that when the beneficiary with special needs dies, any funds remaining in the trust can pass to other family members, or to charity, without having to be used to reimburse the government.

#3 A Pooled Trust

A pooled trust is an alternative to the first-party special needs trust.  Essentially, a charity sets up these trusts that allow beneficiaries to pool their resources with those of other trust beneficiaries for investment purposes, while still maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs. When the beneficiary dies, the funds remaining in the account reimburse the government for care, but a portion also goes towards the non-profit organization responsible for managing the trust.

Life Insurance

Not everyone has a large chunk of money that can be left to a special needs trust, so life insurance can be an essential tool. If you’ve established a special needs trust, a life insurance policy can pay directly into it, and it does not have to go through probate or be subject to estate tax. Be sure to review the beneficiary designation to make sure it names the trust, not the child.

You should make sure you have enough insurance to pay for your child’s care long after you are gone. Without proper funding, the burden of care may fall on siblings or other family members. Using a life insurance policy will also guarantee future funding for the trust while keeping the parents’ estate intact for other family members. When looking for life insurance, consider a second-to-die policy. This type of policy only pays out after the second parent dies, and it has the benefit of lower premiums than regular life insurance policies.

ABLE Account

An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account allows people with disabilities who became disabled before they turned 26 to set aside up to $15,000 a year in tax-free savings accounts without affecting their eligibility for government benefits. This money can come from the individual with the disability or anyone else who may wish to give him money.

Created by Congress in 2014 and modeled on 529 savings plans for higher education, these accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses of the account beneficiary, such as the costs of treating the disability or for education, housing and health care, among other things. ABLE account programs have been rolling out on a state-by-state basis, but even if your state does not yet have its own program, many state programs allow out-of-state beneficiaries to open accounts.

Although it may be easy to set up an ABLE account, there are many hidden pitfalls associated with spending the funds in the accounts, both for the beneficiary and for her family members. In addition, ABLE accounts cannot hold more than $100,000 without jeopardizing government benefits like Medicaid and SSI. If there are funds remaining in an ABLE account upon the death of the account beneficiary, they must be first used to reimburse the government for Medicaid benefits received by the beneficiary. Then the remaining funds will have to pass through probate in order to be transferred to the beneficiary’s heirs.

However you decide to provide for a child with special needs, proper planning is essential. We can help you determine the best plan for your family.

This article is a service of the Law Firm 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 all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

 

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 the Law Firm 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 all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

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

Update: Aretha Franklin’s Estate. 3 Handwritten Wills Found

In August 2018, music legend, Aretha Franklin, died of pancreatic cancer. At her death, her estate was worth over $80 million and it appeared that she died without a will or trust.  (We wrote about this in this article here.)

Recently, we learned that three handwritten wills were found in her home. The latest one is dated March 2014 and it was found inside a spiral notebook, under cushions. The document appears to give the famous singer’s assets to family members. However, the writing is difficult to decipher and there are words scratched out and notes scribbled in the margins.

It is unclear if this is a valid will under Michigan law.  A court hearing is scheduled next month to determine the validity of that document.

Even if the Court determines that the will is valid, there’s still the issue of federal taxes. The Internal Revenue Service is auditing many years of Franklin’s tax returns, according to the estate. It filed a claim in December for more than $6 million in taxes.

Ms. Franklin’s family remains hopeful that wise choices can be made on behalf of her rich legacy, her family and her estate.  Sadly, we may never know what her wishes were.

This article is a service of the Law Firm 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 all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

Will Your Estate Have a Password Problem?

Living in the digital age, having online access to investments is a great convenience. But the downside is that they can create a very difficult situation for a surviving spouse or executor trying to find the deceased’s assets.

What is the first thing you are told about any password? Don’t write it down. This can create unintended consequences for an executor who needs access to each account in order to marshal the assets and eventually distribute those assets to the heirs or trustees based on the language contained in the will.

When the founder and CEO of a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX, died unexpectedly, nobody else had the password to the exchange’s cold storage locker. That cut off access to investors’ $190 million in cryptocurrency.  Those investors may never see their funds again. This is a an eye-opening example of how the security system designed to keep hackers out of an account can work against the owners of funds.

Here are some strategies to safely share passwords to your computer, email and online accounts.

Option #1 Give your passwords to a trusted family member.

This is probably the easiest, but least secure way. They will need passwords to access your computer or smartphone. They will also need a password to access your email — which is where electronic financial statements are traditionally sent. This creates a potential security issue and also doesn’t provide the trusted person with access to each individual financial platform, which would require each of those passwords to be written down or somehow saved and communicated to the trusted person. Many computer operating systems now save passwords to frequently visited websites, so it is possible that if a trusted person had access to your computer, they may also be able to gain access to your financial accounts.

Option #2 Write down and place all passwords in a safe deposit box.

Your executor or guardian/attorney-in-fact through a power of attorney can access your safe deposit box and your passwords to access your computer, email and financial platforms. This option is somewhat safer than simply writing down and providing passwords to a trusted friend or spouse. But this means you have to be diligent about updating the password list.

Option #3 Use a digital wallet.

A digital wallet is the most secure and by far the most recommended way to safely and securely store passwords. Like a real wallet, a digital wallet keeps track of all your passwords across all your devices and does so in an encrypted file in the cloud. With this, the only hurdle is the password with which you access the digital wallet.

This would require that you keep a record of the master password somewhere, or perhaps you can agree with your spouse or trusted friend on a pattern of passwords. That could be anything that the two of you can easily remember, along with perhaps a few other characters. It will need to be something that can be remembered and not written down. Writing down and saving passwords should be avoided if at all possible.

Call (813) 902-3189 to schedule your Planning Session.

Part 1: How do you choose life insurance beneficiaries?

Part 1: How do you choosing life insurance beneficiaries?

Choosing a beneficiary for your life insurance policy isn’t as easy as you might think. That’s because  naming someone as your life insurance beneficiary really has nothing to do with you. Why? Because you should consider how that money will affect your beneficiary’s life once you’re gone. If you’re not careful, you might create problems for your loved ones.

Here are a few important questions you should ask yourself when choosing your life insurance beneficiary:

1. What are your goals? 

Ask yourself: what do you ultimately intend to accomplish with your life insurance?  For example, are you trying to replace income for your spouse and kids? Are you just trying to cover your funeral costs?

The real reason you’re investing in life insurance is something only you can answer. And that answer will put you in a better position to choose your beneficiary.

2. What are your beneficiary options?

Your primary beneficiary is your first choice. If you don’t name a beneficiary, then your life insurance goes to your estate. That means that your life insurance will end up in Probate. Your insurance company will ask you to name your top choice to get the money after your death. This is the primary beneficiary. Probate can tie up your life insurance in court for months or even years.

You should also name a backup beneficiary (a/k/a your alternate or contingent beneficiary)

For example, you can name multiple primary beneficiaries, like your children, and have the proceeds divided among them in whatever way you wish. Also, the beneficiary doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. You can name a charity, nonprofit, or business as the primary (or contingent) beneficiary.

When choosing your beneficiaries, you should ultimately base your decision on which person(s) or organization(s) you think would most benefit from the money. In general, you can designate one or more of the following examples as beneficiaries:

  • One person
  • Two or more people (you decide how money is split among them)
  • A trust you’ve created
  • Your estate
  • A charity, nonprofit, or business

3. Do you have minor children?

If you name a minor child as a primary or contingent beneficiary (and he or she ends up receiving the policy proceeds), a legal guardian must be appointed to manage the funds until the child comes of age. This can lead to numerous complications, so you should definitely consult with an experienced estate planning attorney if you’re considering this option.

Check out Part Two in this series discussing the remaining three questions to consider when naming beneficiaries for your life insurance policy.

Call us at (813) 902-3189 to book your Estate Planning Session.