Why is an Advance Directive so Important with Dementia?

The Roanoke Times advises in the recent article “What to do in absence of advance directive” to talk to an experienced elder care attorney to coordinate the necessary legal issues, when dementia may be at issue with a parent or other loved one. Next, ask your physician for a geriatric evaluation consultation for your loved one with a board-certified geriatrician and a referral to a social worker to assist in navigating the medical system.

It’s wise for anyone older than 55 to have an advance directive in place, should they become incapacitated, so a trusted agent can fulfill the patient’s wishes in a dignified manner. Think ahead and plan ahead.

As a family’s planning starts, the issue of competence must be defined. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t necessarily indicate incompetence or a lack of capacity. At this point, a patient still has the right to make a decision—despite family members disagreeing with it. A patient’s competency should be evaluated after a number of poor choices or an especially serious choice that puts a patient or others at risk.

An evaluation will determine the patient’s factual understanding of concepts, decision-making and cogent expression of choices, the possible consequences of their choices and reasoning of the decision’s pros and cons. Healthcare professionals make the final determination, and these results are provided to the court.

If a patient passes the evaluation, she is deemed to have the mental capacity to make choices on her own. If she cannot demonstrate competency, an attorney can petition the court for a competency hearing, after which a trustee may be appointed to oversee her affairs.

The time to address these types of issues is before the patient becomes incapacitated. The family should clearly define and explore the topics of living wills, advanced directive, estate planning and powers of attorney now with an experienced elder law attorney.

Taking these proactive actions can be one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow upon herself and her loved ones. It can give a family peace of mind. If you put an advance directive in place, it can provide that gift when it’s needed the most.

Reference: Roanoke Times (June 17, 2019) “What to do in absence of advance directive”

 

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Hard Talk from Suze Orman About ( LTC Policy ) Long-Term Care Insurance

Suze Orman offers unapologetically blunt advice about why you and your family might want to consider long-term care (LTC) insurance. Suze learned the hard way how much years of long-term care can cost through an experience in her family. She is convinced that, even with the problems the LTC policy industry has experienced over the years, you should take a look at this type of coverage. Here is a summary of some hard talk from Suze Orman about long-term care insurance.

A Two Million Dollar Mistake

Suze tried to get her mom to sign up for an LTC policy, when her mom was young enough to qualify. Suze offered to pay the premiums, but her mother refused to sign the application. For the last seven of her mom’s 97 years, Suze shelled out more than $20,000 a month for her mother’s assisted living and specialized aides. Thankfully, Suze could afford to drop more than $2 million on her mother’s care. Not many of the rest of us could afford this astronomical expense.

Suze knew how expensive long-term care can be, which is why she pleaded with her mother every year to let Suze buy LTC coverage for her. She saw people lose their life savings paying for home health care or the nursing home. It is particularly sad, when the expenses for one spouse gobble up the retirement savings, leaving the surviving spouse broke.

Do the Math

The premiums for LTC coverage have increased dramatically. A policy that initially cost $2,000 a year, might cost $4,000 a year now. Before you walk away from LTC coverage, think about what you get for that increase in premium.

Home health care will cost, on the average, $4,000 a month. Nursing homes can cost $8,000 a month or more. An entire year’s LTC premium costs only one month of home health care or two weeks of nursing home costs. The expense of living in a nursing home for one year is more than the total of all the premiums a person will ever pay for LTC coverage.

There is no logical reason to believe the cost of home health care or long-term care will decline over the coming decades, when you or your loved one might need these services. If you decide not to buy LTC insurance and just cross your fingers and hope for the best, you need to realize the costs you might have to pay out of your retirement savings could be significantly higher than the current average costs of home health care and nursing homes.

Of course, if the trends continue, the premiums will continue to increase. Suze recommends people only buy an LTC policy today, if they can easily continue to pay the premium if it increases by 40 percent over the coming years.

You should not buy an LTC policy if paying those premiums will mean you cannot afford to save money in your retirement accounts. LTC coverage only pays a benefit to people who need home health care, nursing home, or another form of covered long-term care. Your odds of living to retirement age are far greater than your odds of needing long-term care.

The general law of this article might differ from the regulations of this article. You should talk to an elder law attorney in your area about whether LTC insurance would be a wise addition to your estate planning. This article is not an attempt to sell LTC insurance or any other type of insurance.

References:

AARP. “Plan for Long-Term Care.” (accessed June 12, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2018/longterm-care-suze-orman.html

 

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What’s a Death Tax?

The federal estate tax is sometimes called the death tax. It’s a one-time tax that is imposed at death. Forbes’ recent article, “Eight Things You Need To Know About The Death Tax Before You Die,” explains that it’s not unusual for people to mix up estate taxes with income taxes. The federal estate tax is a transfer tax imposed on individuals with estates over $11.4 million ($22.8 for couples). The tax is on anything over that amount and ranges between 18% and 40%. However, if you die with an estate less than $11.4 million in 2019, no estate tax is due.

Assets in your name only and everything else you had control over will be added into your gross estate. For example, all stocks, bonds, bank accounts and life insurance death benefits are included, as well as any real estate, business interests, jewelry, household furnishings and artwork.

Note: just because your family avoids probate with your estate, doesn’t mean they won’t have to deal with the death tax. For instance, life insurance is in your gross estate, if you owned or could control the policy. IRAs and 401(k)s are also included in your gross estate. Just because these assets aren’t included in the estate because they have a named beneficiary, it doesn’t mean they’ve avoided the death tax. It depends upon the level of control you had over the assets.

If you owned property jointly with a spouse, half of the home’s value is included in the gross estate. If you owned property jointly with someone else (not your spouse), then 100% of the value is included in the gross estate—unless you can prove that the other party contributed some or all of the value.

If you’re the beneficiary of a trust your parents created for you, those assets may be included in your gross estate, if you have certain rights over the trust assets.

If you’re married to a U.S. citizen, you get an unlimited marital deduction for all of the assets you leave to your spouse.  However, some states impose their own death tax, which may require additional planning. For example, Massachusetts has a $1 million estate tax exemption. A tax may also be levied in a state where you own real estate.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your own death tax liability, and what actions you can take to decrease any taxes that may be due.

Reference: Forbes (May 20, 2019) “Eight Things You Need To Know About The Death Tax Before You Die”

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Three Children Named Co-Executors of Your Will?

Is it a good idea to have your three grown children listed as co-executors of your will? This may get somewhat confusing when probating a will, if there are multiple executors.

What are the pros and cons to choosing one child to act as your executor, instead of selecting all three of your children to act co-executors?

nj.com’s recent article asks “I’m planning my will. Is it bad to have more than one executor?”

The article explains that the duty of the executor is to gather all the decedent’s assets, pay any outstanding debts and liabilities and then account for and distribute the remaining estate to the beneficiaries, according to the instructions in the decedent’s will.

The executor is allowed to hire professionals and others to help with tasks, like completing a decedent’s final income tax return or preparing the home for sale.

When you have multiple executors appointed, these tasks can be assigned to each person to lessen the burden of the many duties and responsibilities that an executor has.

On the downside, if those appointed can’t work together easily and without strife, appointing multiple siblings can make the administration of an estate much more difficult due to arguments, conflicts of interest, one sibling taking the lead to the resentment of the others or one executor undermining another executor’s actions.

The problem is, in situations where the siblings don’t get along, designating one of them as co-executors can cause hard feelings and conflict. It’s not uncommon for those siblings who aren’t named as executor, to complain about every decision made by the named executor or delay in the administration of the estate.

If there are multiple executors, the majority rules. That can avoid deadlock. Simple math in this case says that you want to avoid naming an even number of executors or name a person who can act as the tiebreaker.

Even with a “majority rules” agreement among the co-executors, there are some financial institutions and other entities that may require all the executors to sign documents and/or checks on behalf of the estate. This can become burdensome and inefficient, if there are multiple executors.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about your family dynamics and get their opinion about what would be best in your personal situation.

Reference: nj.com (May 22, 2019) “I’m planning my will. Is it bad to have more than one executor?”

 

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Will Contests May Be Rare, but They Do Happen

In an ideal world, wills and estate plans are created when people are sound of mind and body, just as the familiar legal phrase describes. The best way to avoid a will contest is to have a well-written will, prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney who can help avoid legal contest. However, there are times when this is not the case, says The Huntsville Item in the article “Legal Corner: Will contests while rare are messy.”

A will is contested, when the person challenging the will believes that it does not represent the true intent of the testator to pass the estate to the people he wanted.

A will must be written in the correct form and executed according to the law in order to be valid. This is why it is necessary to work with an estate planning attorney to create a will. A person may try to do it on their own, typing it out, downloading a form or copying a form, but because the law is very strict about the form and execution, many of these do-it-yourself wills end up being deemed invalid by the courts.

When the will is not valid, the laws of intestate are applied to the person’s estate. This is rarely in accordance with the person’s wishes, but at this point, it’s too late.

To make a will, the person must have “testamentary capacity.” That means that he or she knows what they are doing, what their estate includes and who the recipients of the estate will be. They also must not have been subject to undue influence. That means that the person making the will is so controlled and dominated by another person, that they were not able to make the will that they wanted.

When the sad day comes that a loved one passes, the family grieves. Each member will deal with the loss in their own way. For some people, the intense level of emotions can bring about conflicts. Sometimes these are the result of old battles that were never resolved. Sibling rivalry that’s been simmering for decades can emerge.

One of the goals of a properly prepared will, is to prevent will contests or any family fights after a loved one has passed.

Studies have found that the struggle over mom’s necklace or dad’s watch are not about the material items themselves, but over the symbolic meaning of those items. When families fight over inheritances in a will contests, it’s rarely because of the actual item or even the money.

As the family’s older member, you want to do anything you can to avoid fracturing the family after you’ve gone.

Unless you take the steps to create a will and a strong estate plan, your loved ones could be entrenched in a long inheritance conflict that lasts years and consumes more resources than anyone can spare.  However, with careful planning, you can avoid inheritance conflicts. After all, estate planning is more for those you love than for you.

Rely on the skill and knowledge of an experienced estate planning attorney and leave your family intact.

Reference: The Huntsville Item (May 26, 2019) “Legal Corner: Will contests while rare are messy”

 

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Stan Lee’s Former Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

District Attorney of Los Angeles County Jackie Lacey has leveled elder abuse charges against Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan.

MSN’s recent article, “Stan Lee’s Ex-Manager Hit With Elder Abuse Charges; Arrest Warrant Issued” reports that Morgan is facing one felony count of false imprisonment of an elder adult, three felony counts of theft, embezzlement, and forgery or fraud against an elder adult, as well as the initial elder abuse misdemeanor count.

Morgan took control of Lee’s business affairs and personal life in February 2018. Lee, the creator of Spiderman, the Black Panther, and other comic book heroes, had assets of more than $50 million in the last years of his life. Lee passed away on November 12, 2018. Morgan is said to have isolated his client from family and friends. Morgan also embezzled or misappropriated $5 million of assets, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2018.

The five counts of elder abuse filed on May 10 could put Morgan in prison for 10 years, if he’s found guilty.

The public first learned of the troublesome relationship between Morgan and Lee last summer, when the then 95-year old Marvel comic book legend sought a restraining order against his ex-aide over elder abuse. The request was made just three days after Lee put out a June 10, 2018 video on social media insisting that he and Morgan were working “together and are conquering the world side-by-side.”

Because of the video and the elder abuse filing, Lee’s financial advisor was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department on suspicion of filing a false police report, allegedly concerning a supposed break-in incident at Lee’s residence.

A three-year restraining order against Morgan was granted by a county judge last August. He was found guilty of the false police report misdemeanor charge in April 2019 and was ordered to stay away from Lee’s family and residence among other conditions.

After years of making cameos in all the Marvel blockbuster movies, Lee’s last appearance was in the record smashing Avengers: Endgame, which was released last month.

Reference: MSN (May 15, 2019) “Stan Lee’s Ex-Manager Hit With Elder Abuse Charges; Arrest Warrant Issued”

 

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End of Life Planning to Care for Loved Ones

It’s definitely an uncomfortable thing to do. However, making funeral arrangements for yourself eliminates a lot of stress and anxiety for the family members, who are left to guess what you may have wanted. This, says the Leesville Daily Leader in the article “Planning for the end of life” lets you make the decisions.

Here are some of the things to consider:

  • Do you want to be buried or cremated?
  • Do you want a funeral or a memorial service?
  • What music do you want played?
  • Do you want flowers, or would you prefer donations to a charity?
  • Do you want people to speak or prefer that only a religious leader speak?
  • What clothing do you want to be buried in?
  • Have you purchased a plot? A gravestone?
  • Who should be notified about your death?
  • Do you want an obituary published in the newspaper?

There are also estate matters that need to be attended to before the end of life. Do you have a will, power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, or a living will? Make sure that your family members or your executor know where these documents can be found.

If you do not have an estate plan in place, now is the time to meet with an estate planning attorney and have a end of life plan created.

Your family will also need to be able to access information about your accounts: investment accounts, credit cards, utility bills, Social Security, pension, retirement funds and other assets and property. A list of the professionals, including your estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisor, along with the names of your healthcare providers, will be needed.

If you are a veteran, you’ll need to have a copy of your DD-214 in your documents or let family members know where this is located. They will need it, or the funeral home will need it, when applying for burial benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Cemetery Administration.

If you wish to be buried in a national cemetery, you’ll need VA Form 40-10007, Application for Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in a VA National Cemetery. This must be completed and sent to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office. Include a copy of the DD-214 with the application.

Your family may find discussing these end of life details difficult, but when the time comes, they will appreciate the care that you took, one last time, to take care of them.

Reference: Leesville Daily Leader (May 1, 2019) “Planning for the end of your life”

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Funeral Arrangements- Who Will Control the When I Die?

nj.com’s recent article, “Why does a funeral home need my signature?” explains that what happens with funeral arrangements, depends on the deceased’s will and state law.

This issue may become important, depending on whether the deceased designated a funeral agent in his or her will. The funeral agent is the legal way to designate a specific person to arrange your funeral.

To appoint a valid funeral agent, it has to be done in a will or codicil. Any appointments made elsewhere aren’t acceptable. If you want to appoint a funeral agent, visit an experienced estate planning attorney.

Note that the rights of the funeral agent take precedence over the rights of all others. This includes the deceased’s spouse and other relatives, like children and parents. After the death and before the will is probated, the executor will tell the funeral agent that he or she is in charge of the funeral, as well as the amount of money that’s available to spend on funeral arrangements.

Experts advise that you should consider naming a funeral agent in your will, if you don’t have any surviving relatives or close family. When a funeral agent is designated, there will be no issues regarding who is in charge of making your final funeral arrangements. If there’s conflict with family members of equal legal right, such as children, make one of the children your funeral agent and make your wishes known to that individual. If you believe you can’t count on family to follow your wishes, find a trusted friend or companion to serve as your funeral agent.

The hierarchy set in the New Jersey statute is in the following order:

  1. The funeral agent designated in the will;
  2. The spouse or civil union partner of the deceased;
  3. The majority of surviving children over the age of 18;
  4. The deceased’s parents;
  5. The majority of surviving siblings over the age of 18; and
  6. Other relatives, according to the degree of their relationship to the deceased person.

A beneficiary can control the funeral arrangements, only if he or she is also included in the hierarchy detailed in the statute.

Reference: nj.com (April 22, 2019) “Why does a funeral home need my signature?”

 

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Estate Planning Documents and Medicaid Planning

The conversation that you have with an estate planning attorney, when you are in your thirties with a new house, young children, and many years ahead of you is different than the one you’ll have when you are much older, maybe just before you retire. The estate planning attorney will know that you are about to enter a time in your life, when the legal documents you prepare are more likely to be used, says the article “Learn about legal documents and Medicaid” from the Houston Chronicle.

It should be noted that everyone needs an estate plan at any time of life, so they may state their wishes for how assets are distributed and name a person who will speak in their behalf, in the event of incapacity because of an illness or injury. Long term care concerns require a discussion of Medicaid.

An estate plan also includes a power of attorney, so someone you chose can serve as your agent to transact business and handle your financial matters. There should also be a declaration of guardian, in the event of later incapacity and a HIPAA medical authorization document. In some instances, a designation of remains is prepared in order to name an individual who will be the appointed agent to care for the body at the time of death.

However, there’s another reason why you’ll need to meet with an attorney at this time. As we get older, the need to address long term care becomes more important. Making the right decisions now, could have a big impact on the quality of your retirement and your later in life medical care.

If you have not updated your will or your powers of attorney, specifically a durable power of attorney for property, it would be wise to do so now. You will need a document to clearly authorize your agent to deal with assets for Medicaid Planning. Any documents that are out of date, or in which named agents have predeceased you, won’t be effective, leading to problems for you and your heirs.

The document may also need to include a broad gifting power for your named agent, so assets can be transferred out of the estate. If this detail is overlooked, the agent may not be able to protect your assets.

This is the time when you may want to take steps to protect your children upon your death or upon the death of the second parent. If your goal is to eliminate assets to be eligible for Medicaid coverage, this planning needs to be done well in advance. In numerous states, there are state administered programs that pursue recovery of assets when a person has received Medicaid benefits.

Your attorney will be able to work with you and your family to address your specific situation. It may be that your estate plan will include trusts, or that certain assets need to be retitled. Meet with an estate planning attorney who is familiar with your state’s laws. And don’t procrastinate.

Reference: The Houston Chronicle (April 19, 2019) “Learn about legal documents and Medicaid”

 

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