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What Is a Fiduciary and a Fiduciary Duty ?

First, a fiduciary duty is the requirement that certain professionals, like attorneys or financial advisors, work in the best financial interest of their clients. By law, members of some professions with clients are bound by fiduciary duty.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “What Is Fiduciary Duty?” explains that in a fiduciary relationship, the person who must prioritize their clients’ interests over their own is called the fiduciary. The person getting the services or assistance is called the beneficiary or principal.

You will frequently see a fiduciary relationship with certain types of professionals, like attorneys and financial advisors. A fiduciary duty is a serious obligation, and if a fiduciary doesn’t fulfill his or her duties, it’s known as a breach of fiduciary duty. Fiduciaries must act in a beneficiary’s best interest. They have two main duties: duty of care and duty of loyalty. Fiduciaries may have different or additional requirements, depending on their industry.

With the duty of care, fiduciaries must make informed business decisions after reviewing available information with a critical eye. Lawyers must act carefully in performing work for clients. Care is determined by the prevailing standards of professional competence in the relevant field of law and geographic region. To abide by the duty of loyalty, fiduciaries must not have any undisclosed economic or personal conflict of interest. They can’t use their positions to further their own private interests. For example, fiduciary financial advisors might adhere to the duty of loyalty by disclosing recommendations from which they’ll receive a commission.

Other common professions or positions that require fiduciary duties include directors of corporations and real estate agents, as well as those discussed below:

Trustee of a Trust. When you want your assets to transfer to someone after you die, you can put them into a trust. The trustee who’s in charge of the trust has a duty to manage the trust and its assets in the best interests of the beneficiary who will one day inherit them.

Estate Executor. The person who manages your estate and handles your affairs is your estate executor. He or she has a fiduciary responsibility to your heirs and next of kin to distribute the estate according to your wishes.

Lawyer. Your attorney must disclose any conflicts of interest and must work with your best interests in mind.

Financial Advisors. Financial advisors who are fiduciaries must act in the best interest of their clients and offer the lowest cost financial solutions to fit their clients’ needs. However, it important to note that not all financial advisors are fiduciaries.

Reference: Forbes (July 28, 2020) “What Is Fiduciary Duty?”

 

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What Happens when an Autistic Child Turns 18, are they a Ward ?

For parents of autistic children, the coming of an 18th birthday is the time when hard decisions about the Ward need to be made. A legal guardianship allows parents to continue to make important decisions for their child, but it does severely limit the child’s rights and freedoms. State laws often require that less restrictive alternatives be considered before a guardianship is ordered, says the article “Guardianship And Autism: A Crossroads In Life” from Autism Key.com.

An adult guardianship is a court proceeding that appoints another person to make decisions about a person’s health, safety, support, care and residence. The procedure varies from state to state.  However, the process generally starts with an interested party filing a petition, with the court stating why guardianship for the person, known as the “ward,” is necessary. The person who has filed for guardianship and others, including parents, spouses, or relatives, all receive a copy of the petition. An independent evaluator assesses the ward and reports on their capacity. There is a hearing and the court determines whether guardianship is needed. The ward has the right to hire counsel, or the court can provide counsel.

Once the guardian is appointed, the court may limit or completely terminate the ward’s ability to make decisions regarding medical treatment, where they live and other important decisions. The guardian is required to make decisions that are always in the best interest of their ward and to encourage the ward to participate in decisions. A report must be filed with the court every year to advise of the ward’s status.

Most states have a law known as the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act, which makes it easier for states to transfer guardianship from one state to another, if the person moves. Florida, Kansas, Texas and Michigan do not have this law.

Guardianship is an emotional decision for parents to make. They want their child to be protected, at the same time they hope their child can reach a certain level of independence, within the limits of their capacity.

An individual facing a guardianship petition has the right to an attorney and in some states, that attorney must advocate for the best interest of the person, which may be to have more independence.

A case involving a young woman with Down’s Syndrome named Jenny Hatch in 2013 led to changes in guardianship proceedings. Jenny was a high school graduate, worked at a thrift shop and volunteered in local political campaigns. At her parent’s request, a court put her into temporary guardianship and placed her in a group home, where her cell phone and laptop were taken away. She was not permitted to socialize with friends or go to work. After a year of litigation, she won the right to make her own decisions through Supported Decision-Making, a process in which a team of allies help the disabled to make key decisions about their life. Jenny became a national hero for the rights of the disabled and speaks publicly about her experience. A number of states now have Supported Decision-Making laws to give the disabled freedom, while providing them with a network of support.

There is a lot of information to consider as a parent facing the prospect of an ASD child becoming a legal adult. Each person has his or her own strengths and challenges. Review the laws of your state to consider what options there may be, in addition to guardianship.

Reference: Autism Key.com (July 28, 2020) “Guardianship And Autism: A Crossroads In Life”

 

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Protecting Assets with a Revocable Trust
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Protecting Assets with a Revocable Trust

Protecting Assets with a Revocable Trust – The question raised in the article “Fact or Fiction: I Can Protect My Assets from a Nursing Home with a Revocable Trust” from New Hampshire Business Review is frequency asked, and the reason for it is understandable. Any form of long-term home care is costly and can quickly decimate a lifetime of savings. There are ways to protect assets, but a revocable trust is not one of them.

There are some reasons why a person might find a revocable trust attractive. For one thing, if the grantor (the person who creates the trust and is also the trustee (i.e., the person in charge of the trust)), there is no loss of control. It is as if you still own the assets that are in the trust. However, when you die, the assets in the trust don’t go through the probate process. Instead, they go directly to the beneficiaries named in the trust documents. A revocable trust also lets you make specific provisions for beneficiaries and beneficiaries with special needs.

There is a trust that can be used to protect assets from the cost of long-term care. It is the irrevocable trust, which must be properly prepared by an estate planning attorney and done in a timely fashion: five years before the person needs to go to a nursing home.

The difference is in the name: the irrevocable trust is irrevocable. Once it is created, you (the grantor) may not change it. Once an asset is placed in the trust, you don’t own it. The trust is the owner. You can’t change your mind. The grantor may also not serve as the trustee of the trust.

You have to be prepared to give up complete control of the assets that go into the trust.

Some people think simply by handing over their assets in the trust to their children, they’ve solved everything. However, there are problems. If your children are sued or run into debt problems, that lifetime of saving which is now in their control is also subject to creditors or claims. If you need to enter a nursing home within five years of your handing over the assets, you also won’t be eligible for Medicaid.

The best course of action is to meet with an estate planning attorney and discuss your overall estate plan. You should have a frank conversation about your wishes, what kind of a legacy you want to leave behind and your bigger picture for the world after you’ve passed. The attorney will help work out a plan that will protect you, your spouse, your assets and your family.

Remember that an estate plan is not a one-and-done document. Every three or four years, or as “life happens” and changes occur in your life, you should touch base with your attorney. A new family member by marriage, birth or adoption, may call for some changes to your estate plan. It might also be affected by the sadder events of life; death, divorce, or a significant health change. All require a phone call and a discussion to ensure that your estate plan still achieves your goals and protects those you love.

Reference: New Hampshire Business Review (July 30, 2020) “Fact or Fiction: I Can Protect My Assets from a Nursing Home with a Revocable Trust”

 

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Why Can’t Doctors Recognize Lewy Body Dementia ?
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Why Can’t Doctors Recognize Lewy Body Dementia ?

Considerable’s recent article entitled “The second most common type of dementia often goes unrecognized” reports that in one study, nearly 70% of people diagnosed with Lewy body dementia visited three consultants before receiving the diagnosis. For 33% of people with the disease, getting the correct diagnosis took over two years.

The word “dementia” describes a condition affecting a person’s memory and thinking that is a decline from how they used to function. It is severe enough to affect their daily life. Alzheimer’s disease dementia and Lewy body dementia are the two most common types. Lewy body dementia derives its name from the abnormal protein clumps that are seen on autopsies of the brains of people with Lewy body.

A diagnosis of Lewy body dementia comprises two different conditions: dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia. With Lewy body, an individual develops memory and thinking problems before or at the same time as he or she develops movement problems that mirror Parkinson’s disease. In Parkinson’s disease dementia, one who has experienced Parkinson’s disease movement problems for years then also develops trouble with memory and thinking.

The two conditions have many common features. With the memory and thinking problems and movement problems, patients with these conditions can have fluctuations in their alertness and concentration, hallucinations and paranoia, acting out dreams during sleep (known as “REM sleep behavior disorder”), low blood pressure with standing, daytime sleepiness and depression and other symptoms.

The correct diagnosis is vital for patients and families. The diagnosis of Lewy body dementia is frequently missed, because of lack of awareness by physicians, patients, and their families. Research also reveals that the first diagnosis is commonly incorrect. Roughly 26% of people later diagnosed with Lewy body were first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and 24% were given a psychiatric diagnosis like depression.

With the correct diagnosis, patients and families can seek out resources, such as the Lewy Body Dementia Association, an organization dedicated to helping people living with this disease. This group provides education on Lewy body, helps patients and families know what to expect, connects patients and families to support and resources and helps them find research opportunities.

Reference: Considerable (Aug. 14, 2020) “The second most common type of dementia often goes unrecognized”

 

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Daughters of Don Lewis from Tiger King File Lawsuit

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Family of Tiger King ’s Don Lewis files lawsuit against Carole Baskin and others” explains that that the attorney filed a “pure bill of discovery.” That’s a pretty obscure legal pleading. It demands that the defendants produce information they might have about the Lewis case for possible use in later lawsuits. The plaintiffs are Lewis’ adult daughters, Donna L. Pettis, Lynda L. Sanchez, Gale Rathbone and Lewis’ longtime assistant, Anne McQueen.

“It’s a lawsuit for equity,” said Jacksonville based lawyer John M. Phillips, who specializes in personal injury and wrongful death cases and is representing Lewis’ family in the action.

At a news conference, Phillips explained that his legal move could mean depositions and subpoenas to determine who exactly the family will sue in the future. The complaint demands that the defendants turn over electronic device data, diaries and investigative material related to Lewis. Phillips said Carole Baskin, one of the stars of the Netflix series is “invited to the table” to willingly come forward with information on Lewis.

“Generally you announce a $150 million lawsuit and how we’re going to get justice,” Phillips said. “And we are going to do all of that, in time. But our office wants to invite reason, to invite civil conversation where it can be had.”

Carole Baskin was married to Lewis, when he disappeared. Kenny Farr worked as a handyman for Lewis for many years and continued working for Baskin after Lewis went missing. The third defendant in the suit, Susan A. Bradshaw, is listed as a witness on Lewis’ will and durable power of attorney. Bradshaw told the Tampa Bay Times in 2005 that Baskin asked her to testify that she was there for the will signing—but she wasn’t.

Phillips said that his law firm is also conducting an independent investigation into Lewis’ disappearance.

“We may or may not have hopped a fence yesterday just to try to investigate and find out if, you know, if this was a place where Don Lewis could have been buried,” Phillips said in an interview with HLN.

A judge is tasked with deciding whether to allow the bill of pure discovery to go forward. The family’s attorney will have to convince the judge that the lawsuit isn’t filed as a “fishing expedition,” simply looking for evidence, or that it’s not being used to harass the defendants.

Lewis was never found after his wife reported him missing in August of 1997, a day before a scheduled trip to Costa Rica. Lewis was declared legally dead in 2002. The interest in Lewis’ case again came into focus, when it was part of the hit Netflix series “Tiger King”, which was the story of the feud between Baskin and Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Exotic. Lewis’ daughters suspect that Baskin was somehow involved in their father’s disappearance.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Aug. 11, 2020) “Family of Tiger King’s Don Lewis files lawsuit against Carole Baskin and others”

 

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What Is a Caregiver Agreement ?

The idea that a family member or trusted friend may be paid to take care of an aging parent or sibling in a caregiver agreement is a welcome one. However, most family members don’t understand the legal complexity involved in privately paying for care, says the recent article “Paying a family member for care” from The Times Herald. Payments made to a family caregiver or a private caregiver can lead to a world of trouble from Medicaid and the IRS.

This is why attorneys create caregiver agreements for clients. The concept is that the care and services provided by a relative or friend would otherwise be performed by an outside person at whatever the going rates are within the person’s community. The payment should be considered a fully compensated transfer for Medicaid eligibility purposes and should not result in any penalty being imposed if it is done correctly.

This is more likely to be avoided with a formal written caregiver agreement. In some states, like Pennsylvania, a caregiver agreement is required to be sure that the payments made to the caregiver are not deemed to be a gift under Medicare rules.

The caregiver agreement must outline the services that are being provided and the rate of pay, which can be in the form of weekly, monthly or a lump sum payment. This is where it gets sticky: that payment should not be higher than what an outside provider would be paid. An excessively high payment would trigger a red flag for Medicaid and could be viewed as a gift.

Medicaid has a five-year look back period, where the applicant’s finances are examined to see if there were efforts to minimize the person’s financial assets to qualify for Medicaid. If any transfers of property or assets are made that are higher than fair market value, it’s possible that it will be viewed as creating a period of ineligibility. That is why it’s so important to have a contract or written agreement in place, when a family member or other person is hired to provide those services and is paid privately.

There are also income tax consequences. The caregiver is considered a household employee by the IRS. They are not considered to be an independent contractor and should not be issued a 1099 to reflect their payment. If that is done, it could be considered to be tax evasion.

Speak with an estate planning attorney about crafting a caregiving agreement and how to handle the tax issue, when privately paying for care. They will help avoid putting Medicaid eligibility in jeopardy, as well as avoiding problems with the IRS.

Reference: The Times Herald (Aug. 13, 2020) “Paying a family member for care”

 

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How to Make Beneficiary Designations Better

Beneficiary designations supersede all other estate planning documents, so getting them right makes an important difference in achieving your estate plan goals. Mistakes with beneficiary designations can undo even the best plan, says a recent article “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid” from The Street. Periodically reviewing beneficiary forms, including confirming the names in writing with plan providers for workplace plans and IRA custodians, is important.

Post-death changes, if they can be made (which is rare), are expensive and generally involve litigation or private letter rulings from the IRS. Avoiding these five commonly made mistakes is a better way to go.

1—Neglecting to name a beneficiary. If no beneficiary is named for a retirement plan, the estate typically becomes the beneficiary. In the case of IRAs, language in the custodial agreement will determine who gets the assets. The distribution of the retirement plan is accelerated, which means that the assets may need to be completely withdrawn in as little as five years, if death occurs before the decedent’s required beginning date for taking required minimum distributions (RMDs).

With no beneficiary named, retirement plans become probate accounts and transferring assets to heirs becomes subject to delays and probate fees. Assets might also be distributed to people you didn’t want to be recipients.

2—Naming the estate as the beneficiary. The same issues occur here, as when no beneficiary is named. The asset’s distributions will be accelerated, and the plan will become a probate account. As a general rule, estates should never be named as a beneficiary.

3—Not naming a spouse as a primary beneficiary. The ability to stretch out the distribution of retirement plans ended when the SECURE Act was passed. It still allows for lifetime distributions, but this only applies to certain people, categorized as “Eligible Designated Beneficiaries” or “EDBs.” This includes surviving spouses, minor children, disabled or special needs individuals, chronically ill people and individuals who are not more than ten years younger than the retirement plan’s owner. If your heirs do not fall into this category, they are subject to a ten-year rule. They have only ten years to withdraw all assets from the account(s).

If your goal is to maximize the distribution period and you are married, the best beneficiary is your spouse. This is also required by law for company plans subject to ERISA, a federal law that governs employee benefits. If you want to select another beneficiary for a workplace plan, your spouse will need to sign a written spousal consent agreement. IRAs are not subject to ERISA and there is no requirement to name your spouse as a beneficiary.

4—Not naming contingent beneficiaries. Without contingency, or “backup beneficiaries,” you risk having assets being payable to your estate, if the primary beneficiaries predecease you. Those assets will become part of your probate estate and your wishes about who receives the asset may not be fulfilled.

5—Failure to revise beneficiaries when life changes occur. Beneficiary designations should be checked whenever there is a review of the estate plan and as life changes take place. This is especially true in the case of a divorce or separation.

Any account that permits a beneficiary to be named should have paperwork completed, reviewed periodically and revised. This includes life insurance and annuity beneficiary forms, trust documents and pre-or post-nuptial agreements.

Reference: The Street (Aug. 11, 2020) “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid”

 

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A Four-Decades Longest Social Security Scam Finally Ends

In one of the Longest Social Security Scam of its kind, a 76-year-old small business owner in Oregon has been collecting his deceased aunt’s Social Security checks and even her stimulus payment from the Treasury Department issued in May, as reported by AARP in the article “Nephew Allegedly Cashed Dead Aunt’s Social Security Checks for More Than 40 Years.” The nephew, George William Doumar, also collected his own Social Security benefits, telling authorities, “it was nice to have the extra money coming in every month.”

Both Doumar and his aunt, who is not named, lived in Brooklyn. She never married and had no children. Before she died, back in 1971, she named her nephew her sole beneficiary of her life insurance policy. Until July 14, he was getting both his and his aunt’s monthly checks. When interviewed at his home by federal agents, he slumped and said, “that’s a long story … what happened was, well, she’s passed and yes, I’ve been collecting her Social Security.”

Here is what has emerged in this bizarre story of the longest social security scam:

At age 65, the aunt applied for Social Security, but her wages in 1970 made her ineligible to receive benefits. By August 1977, the Social Security Administration initiated retirement benefits, using her initial benefit application. The first retirement check went out to her in September 1977—after she’d been dead for more than six years.

She had lived in a nursing facility in Brooklyn from about 1969 until her death in 1971. Doumar also lived in Brooklyn and says he doesn’t recall how he obtained regular possession of the checks. He also said that at one point, he reported her death to the SSA, but there are no records of her death being reported.

At first, he cashed her checks at a New York business he owned, but he moved to Oregon in 1989. He forged her signature to add her name to a joint checking account he had with his wife in Oregon. The Social Security checks were mailed to the business he owned.

In February, when government staffers deemed that the aunt would have been 114 years old, they became suspicious. No updates had been made to her account in more than 30 years, except for the address change.

Doumar is facing felony charges, and authorities plan to seek restitution for the amount he stole: $460,192.30. Minus the stimulus check, that’s about $912.50 a month, for nearly 42 years.

It might have been nice to have the extra money, but not to be facing the possibility of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, in addition to paying back the money owed to the Social Security Administration.

Reference: AARP (Aug. 14, 2020) “Nephew Allegedly Cashed Dead Aunt’s Social Security Checks for More Than 40 Years.”

 

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How does Medicare Coverage Work?

Actually, far from covering all your healthcare needs, Medicare coverage may leave you with thousands of dollars in expenses for which you’ll be responsible.

The recent article in The Mooresville Tribune entitled “3 Reasons Medicare Coverage Isn’t as Comprehensive as You Think” provides three reasons why:

  1. Medicare has expensive deductibles and coinsurance. There are different parts to Medicare. Part A covers hospital care. Part B pays for outpatient care. Each one has deductibles and some coinsurance expenses. Let’s look at these examples:
  • Medicare Part A has a $1,408 deductible per benefit period this year. If you are in the hospital more than 60 days during a benefit period, you’ll owe coinsurance costs starting at $352 per day, based on how long you remain in care.
  • Part B has a $198 deductible in 2020, and you’ll pay coinsurance costs of 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for medical services after you meet the deductible. You’ll also owe monthly premiums.
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage) takes the place of traditional Medicare (Parts A and B) with private insurance. Coinsurance, copay and premium costs vary by plan.
  • Part D (prescription drug coverage) has several plans with varying premiums and coverage rules.

As a result, with only Parts A and B, you could wind up paying thousands of dollars out of pocket. That’s especially true, if you’re hospitalized for a long time during the year or if you need extensive outpatient care.

  1. Coverage exclusions. In addition, there are some items of care that Medicare doesn’t cover at all. For example, Medicare doesn’t cover routine dental care, eye exams, contacts, hearing aids or glasses.
  2. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care in most circumstances. A major Medicare exclusion is long-term care insurance. Medicare covers care in a skilled nursing facility under a few circumstances, such as after a long hospital stay when you need assistance from a medical professional to recover. However, the program doesn’t pay for “custodial care,” either at home or in a nursing home. Thus, if you require someone to help you with routine aspects of daily living, like getting dressed, eating, or using the bathroom, you’ll have out-of-pocket costs.

It’s important to know that long-term care can be very costly. The median monthly costs of home health aides are roughly $4,300, and a semi-private room in a nursing home costs about $7,500 in 2019, according to Genworth. Since Medicare won’t pay for any of this in most circumstances, you’ll need another way to pay for it.

Don’t assume that Medicare will cover all your needs as a retiree. So, prior to retirement, examine what Medicare will actually cover. That will help you determine the amount you’ll need to save for healthcare costs. You can also consider Medigap or Medicare Advantage Plans or look into long-term care insurance.

Reference: Mooresville Tribune (Aug. 10, 2020) “3 Reasons Medicare Coverage Isn’t as Comprehensive as You Think”

 

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What Is a Testamentary Trust ?

A testamentary trust is a legal document that’s part of your will. It goes into effect after your death. This trust holds property for your heirs’ benefit and comes into effect when three criteria are met:

  • the testator has died
  • the will goes through probate; and
  • and the terms of the trust are still relevant.

US News and World Report’s recent article entitled “What’s a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?” explains that a frequent reason to create a testamentary trust, is to provide for your children after your death.

Testamentary trusts are not the same as living trusts. Those trusts become effective while you’re still alive. The main purpose of a living trust is to allow assets within the trust to avoid the legal proceedings associated with administering the will in the probate process.

With such a trust, assets are transferred to the trust at your death through your will. As a result, they’re subject to probate proceedings.

A living trust can be revocable. That means it can be modified at any time. There’s also an irrevocable trust, which means that it can’t be changed once it’s finalized. A testamentary trust can be changed up, until the creator’s death.

A testamentary trust is often used when the creator has minor children and wants to provide some financial control over the assets, if both parents die while the children are minors. The trust can arrange management of those assets by a trustee.

You can also employ a testamentary trust for Medicaid planning. State law has a lot to do with how this works, so it is best to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney or elder law attorney.

Generally speaking, if you have a beneficiary who needs Medicaid government benefits, a supplemental needs trust or Medicaid trust can help the beneficiary afford needed expenses, without disqualifying them from the program’s benefits.

Note that Medicaid benefits are available to people who own few assets and eligibility is income-based.

Reference: US News and World Report (Aug. 6, 20201) “What’s a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?”

 

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