Estate Planning

7 Ways To Help Protect Senior Finances

financial-elder-abuseWith difficult economic times, we also experience an unfortunate increase in elder abuse. Financial exploitation takes many forms. Those include taking money or property, forging an older person’s signature and getting an older person to sign a deed or will through deception or coercion.

Family members can be undetected predators.  Most cases of financial exploitation involve family members. Usually it’s someone who is dependent on Mom and Dad. They need that big pot of money. They’re unemployable, or didn’t try to work, or have substance abuse problems. They end up isolating Mom and Dad. The other kids are not sure what’s going on. It’s easy to transfer the house to their name or take out mortgages on the house. They might use some of the money for Mom and Dad, but they use some for themselves, too. Increased longevity is contributing to the problem. Children with a sense of entitlement grow increasingly impatient awaiting their inheritance. Michigan has an elder abuse hotline: 1-855-444-3911. Signs of potential financial exploitation can include unpaid bills, withdrawals from bank accounts and transfers that the older person cannot explain. Sometimes a predator becomes the new “best friend,” getting access to funds and bank accounts. Anyone can call the hotline and report the abuse. If you suspect an elder you know is being abused please call. An investigator will be assigned to look into the situation.

Pay attention to estate planning.  To guard against such problems, legal and financial advisers suggest taking care of estate planning early. Picking who you know and trust as health care agent and durable power of attorney is very important. Do it while you have the mental capacity to make the best possible decision for yourself. If possible, let other people know about it. If putting adult children in charge is problematic, consider hiring a third party — an attorney, a CPA — who is not emotionally attached. By planning early and letting everyone know what the plan is there is less chance that the senior will be taken advantage of in the future.

Some safety tips for seniors:

  • Arrange for direct deposit of Social Security checks and other retirement benefits.
  • Do not give anyone access to your ATM cards or passwords.
  • Take great care in choosing someone to appoint as power of attorney and in completing or revising a will.
  • Be careful about permitting family, friends or tenants to live in your house. Have a written agreement about expectations of services to be performed or rent paid.
  • Treat home attendants like employees, not friends.
  • Keep valuables hidden if someone comes into the house on a regular basis.
  • Maintain contact with family, friends, neighbors and/or your community center. The more active you are, the less likely you are to be exploited.

If you need help establishing your estate plan, call our office for an appointment at 888-829-0894.

Estate Planning, Living Trusts, Real Life Lessons

Someone Finally Did Things Right! Lessons from Robin Williams’s Estate Plan

downloadLast week we tragically lost an entertainer who played a major role in the lives of many. Usually when a celebrity dies I read about how their estate plans went awry and how they did everything wrong, but today I am pleased to report that I am able to discuss one celebrity who may have done things right. Early reports, citing TMZ (seriously, where do they dig this stuff up and how ridiculous is it that I am citing it?), indicate that Robin Williams may have used a revocable trust as his primary vehicle to transfer his assets at death.

There are a number of reasons a revocable trust may be the perfect estate planning tool, but primary among them is privacy: a revocable trust is a private document that normally will be unavailable to the public, an important consideration for a public figure. In contrast, consider the cases of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini, among others, whose wills and dispositions from their large estates were on public display. A will is a public document, filed with the court in a probate proceeding, and as such is available to the public; a trust is not automatically subject to probate or court jurisdiction. If a client-say a celebrity, an athlete, or even a resident of a small town full of nosy neighbors—ever has a need for privacy, the revocable trust is the preferred instrument.

A revocable trust can also reduce (but not eliminate) the possibility of intra-family drama surrounding the estate plan. A revocable trust avoids a probate proceeding, without which no notice to family members and heirs is necessary. Only the named beneficiaries need to get notice of the distribution from a trust, unlike in probate where all defined heirs, along with named beneficiaries, are required to receive notice. This means that a child or someone else who intentionally may have been excluded as a beneficiary will receive notice and will be an interested party in a court-supervised probate proceeding. It is still possible to bring action to determine the validity of a trust, or to contest distributions from a trust, but a party who might wish to press such claims may never even receive notice that the trust exists.

Just because Robin Williams appeared to have used a revocable trust instead of a will as his primary estate planning vehicle doesn’t mean his estate plan was perfect, but it does mean he was able to ensure that the division of his assets will remain private. One caveat: revocable trusts are only helpful if you have actually transferred your assets to the trust. Funding the trust is crucial and you should always work with a qualified estate planning attorney to coordinate the details.



Estate Planning

When a Loved One Dies

Loved_OneAfter a loved one dies, there are many issues which need to be addressed to wrap up the person’s legal and financial affairs. The following is a checklist of issues to consider:

The funeral home should take care of providing you with certified copies of the death certificate. The number of death certificates you need will depend on the assets remaining at the time of death.

The funeral home should contact the Social Security Administration to report the death. If there is a surviving spouse, the spouse will be entitled to a one-time death benefit of approximately $250. In addition, the surviving spouse may begin receiving the deceased spouse’s monthly social security payment if it was higher than their own.

Regarding any life insurance, you will need to call the insurance company to report the death. The company will send you a claim form to complete and will request a certified copy of the death certificate. The death benefit proceeds will then be issued to the beneficiaries. (Retirement plans, such as IRA’s and annuities, work much the same way. You must contact the appropriate company to report the death, complete the necessary claim forms and submit a death certificate before the proceeds will be distributed to the beneficiaries.)

If your loved one was receiving a pension from the VA or a former employer, you should contact the institution and report the death. If there is a surviving spouse, it is possible that the spouse may receive a death benefit or may begin receiving a monthly pension check.

If your loved one owned real estate in joint tenancy with another individual, a certified copy of the death certificate should be filed with the county registry of deeds office. The same is true if they owned the real estate alone but had designated a beneficiary. (Keep in mind, if the home is now vacant, there will most likely be a limit on how long the home will continue to be insured—you should check with the insurance company.)

If your loved one owned a car, a death certificate should be presented to the local Secretary of State office.

Any other assets remaining, like bank accounts, CD’s, stocks and bonds should be handled similarly to the real estate and car. Those assets with Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) beneficiary designations will require that a death certificate be provided to the appropriate financial institution or company.

Finally, you may be wondering if anything will have to go through probate. Those assets that were titled in your loved one’s name alone with no beneficiary designation at the time of death will need to be probated. If there was such an asset, then your loved one’s Last Will and Testament will need to be filed with the probate court. If there was no Last Will and Testament in place, a probate estate will need to be opened and state law will determine the distribution of the assets. (There are exceptions to this procedure which may simplify the process if the assets remaining in the deceased person’s name at the time of death are relatively minimal.) If, on the other hand, some of the deceased person’s assets were held in Trust, a trust administration will have to be conducted.

Regardless of the amount of assets and how they are titled, it is always wise to contact an elder law attorney for guidance after the loss of a loved one. The Wall Law Group offers a free initial consultation. For your appointment please call 888-829-0894 or click here.

Asset Protection, Estate Planning

Have Your Parents Planned For Your Protection?

images (9)When your parents die, you are the one who will be responsible for taking care of everything they leave behind. My dad died when I was in law school and even though my mom was still living, ensuring that his estate was administered properly was my responsibility. There are steps you can take today to make sure that it will be as easy for you as possible and that what you inherit will be as protected as possible. Avoid these three mistakes.

Mistake #1 – The Way Your Parents’ Assets are Titled Could Cost You Tens or even Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars. If your parents’ own their home and other assets in their own name and not in the name of a well-drafted living trust, you could have to deal with an expensive, time-consuming and frustrating court process called probate. Probate is totally and completely avoidable by ensuring that all of your parents’ assets are held in trust properly.

Mistake #2 – Failure to Have Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives Could Leave Your Hands Tied. If one or both of your parents become incapacitated, you could be stuck without a way to access their bank accounts and critical information if they have not executed updated legal documents that not only protect them, but you as well.

Mistake #3 – Your Parents’ Living Trust Might Leave Your Inheritance at Risk. If your parents’ trust is drafted in the best way possible, you could receive your inheritance protected completely from lawsuits, divorce and estate taxes. But, if it’s drafted incorrectly, your inheritance could be at risk.

You can easily avoid all of these mistakes today by having your parents’ estate reviewed by a specialist who can take the necessary steps to prepare everything for a smooth administration. Invest a fraction of the time and energy today to avoid 10x the complication, stress and cost later. It’s one of the best and least expensive investments you can make for your peace of mind.

Estate Planning

Wills, Trusts, Living Wills … What Documents Do You Need?

images (10)One question I’m asked over and over again is “What Kind of Legal Documents Does Everyone Need?” This is a question I both love and hate. And, I thought I’d answer it once and for all here.

Historically, estate planning has been all about the creation of form documents such as Wills, Trusts, Health Care Directives and Powers of Attorney. While it remains important to have well-crafted documents, what has become clear over the past 10-15 years of lawyers promoting living trusts is that, for the most part, these documents are destined to fail at the time your family needs them the most.

Why is this? Because your life changes, your assets change and the law changes. And, a set of documents that you create once, stick on a shelf or in a drawer and never look at again is not what your family needs in a crisis situation.

What they need is someone to turn to, someone trusted to call upon who will guide them through the crisis situation and out the other side.

So, yes, every adult needs an Advance Health Care Directive (aka Living Will) and a Durable Power of Attorney. If you have money or other assets, you also should have a Will and a Living Trust. If you have kids, you should designate both long-term and temporary (emergency responder) guardians. There’s no excuse not to do this.

But more so than any of that, you really should have a relationship with a personal lawyer you can turn to throughout your life to make sure you always have exactly what your family needs and so that your family will have someone to turn to when they need it most.