What are the Blind Spots in Social Security? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The SimplyWise survey also found that there are five areas that are especially confusing to people. Only one in 300 of those who took a five-question quiz answered all the questions correctly, reports Think Advisor in the article entitled “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security.”

Here are some Social Security questions that might be relevant and not knowing the answers could cost you thousands of dollars a year in income.

  1. What age do I claim to maximize my monthly earned Social Security benefit? The age is 70, although 62 years is when an individual can first make a claim. However, your benefits grow each year you wait—up to age 70. According to SimplyWise, only 42% of quiz takers got this answer right.
  2. What is the earliest age non-disabled people can get survivor benefits? A mere 9% answered this correctly. It is age 60. Many think it is age 62, the age people can begin claiming Social Security.That is correct for earned benefits and spousal benefits.
  3. Is a current spouse required to be getting Social Security benefits, for the other spouse to qualify for spousal benefits? Yes. Just 20% of respondents got this answer correct. It is important to understand that if both spouses are claiming Social Security, one can either receive their own benefit or 50% of their spouse’s amount, whichever is more.
  4. Is a divorced spouse able to get survivor benefits? Yes, and just 38% of people got this answer right. The criteria is somewhat different than for married people. The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, and there are certain rules that apply to remarrying. However, divorced spouses can collect survivor benefits under a deceased ex-spouse.
  5. Can divorced spouses get spousal benefits? Yes, and 67% got this answer correct. Divorced spouses who were married for at least 10 years and have not remarried can claim spousal benefits.

Reference: Think Advisor (Feb. 13, 2020) “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Do I Really Need a Health Care Proxy? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Pauls Valley Democrat’s recent article entitled “Advance directives and living wills” explains that an Advance Directive has three parts:

  •  A living will
  •  Naming of your health care agent; and
  •  Your directions for anatomical gifts.

The individual that you name as your Health Care Proxy will make decisions for your treatment and care, if you are unable to do so. These decisions may extend to all medical issues and are not limited to end-stage, life determining decisions that are mentioned in your living will. This is a form of power of attorney that authorizes your agent to act in your behalf to address issues like these:

  1. Accessing your medical information
  2. Discussing your treatment options with your healthcare providers
  3. Getting second opinions on your diagnosis
  4. Selecting and authorizing various medical tests
  5. Your placement in a hospital or care facility
  6. Transferring your care to a new physician; and
  7. Communicating your wishes on life support in terminal or unconscious situations.

For end of life decisions, your health care proxy is bound by your written wishes as expressed in your living will. Life support can be terminated, only if you so authorize in writing. Your healthcare proxy cannot make that decision for you, because that is “personal” to you. You may select one or more persons to act as your proxy, although if two are selected, you should predefine what to do in the event of a conflict.

A best practice is to choose a person who is younger than you and who is geographically close. A person with time to assist you and with whom you are willing to share in advance your wishes, likes and dislikes as to medical care. This person should be trusted to act and honor your wishes.

Because many decisions relate to your very personal concerns about religion, death and dying, these feelings should be shared with your health care proxy before any serious situation.

The Advance Directive is a very important document that pertains to your wishes, as they relate to medical care, end-of-life and death.

Parts I and II can discuss your wishes for care treatment, as well as your choice of a person to represent your wishes. These are two very important issues. Take the time to consider the advance written expression of your own wishes.

Reference: Pauls Valley Democrat (Feb. 12, 2020) “Advance directives and living wills”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Can I Fund A Special Needs Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

TapInto’s recent article entitled “Ways to Fund Special Needs Trusts” says that when sitting down to plan a special needs trust, one of the most urgent questions is, “When it comes to funding the trust, what are my options?”

There are four main ways to build up a third-party special needs trust. One way is to contribute personal assets, which in many cases come from immediate or extended family members. Another possible way to fund a special needs trust, is with permanent life insurance. In addition, the proceeds from a settlement or lawsuit can also make up the foundation of the trust assets. Finally, an inheritance can provide the financial bulwark to start and fund the special needs trust.

Families choosing the personal asset route may put a few thousand dollars of cash or other assets into the trust to start, with the intention that the initial investment will be augmented by later contributions from grandparents, siblings, or other relatives. Those subsequent contributions can be willed to the trust, or the trust may be named as a beneficiary of a retirement or investment account. It is vital that families use the services of an elder law or special trusts lawyer. Special needs trusts are very complicated, and if set up incorrectly, it can mean the loss of government program benefits.

If a special needs trust is started with life insurance, the trustor will name the trust as the beneficiary of the policy. When the trustor passes away, the policy’s death benefit is left, tax free, to the trust. When a lump-sum settlement or inheritance is invested within the trust, this can allow for the possibility of growth and compounding. With a worthy trustee in place, there is less chance of mismanagement, and the money may come out of the trust to support the beneficiary in a wise manner that does not risk threatening government benefits.

In addition, a special needs trust can be funded with tangible, non-cash assets, such as real estate, securities, art or antiques. These assets (and others like them) can be left to the trustee of the special needs trust through a revocable living trust or will. Note that the objective of the trust is to provide the trust beneficiary with non-disqualifying cash and assets owned by the trust. As a result, these tangible assets will have to be sold or liquidated to meet that goal.

As mentioned above, you need to take care in the creation and administration of a special needs trust, which will entail the use of an experienced attorney who practices in this area and a trustee well-versed in the rules and regulations governing public assistance. Consequently, the resulting trust will be a product of close collaboration.

Reference: TapInto (February 2, 2020) “Ways to Fund Special Needs Trusts”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Do I Plan for My Incapacity? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Post-Searchlight’s recent article, “How to go about planning for incapacity,” advises that planning ahead can make certain that your health-care wishes will be carried out, and that your finances will continue to be competently managed.

Incapacity can strike at any time. Advancing age can bring dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and a serious illness or accident can happen suddenly. Therefore, it’s a real possibility that you or your spouse could become unable to handle your own medical or financial affairs.

If you become incapacitated without the proper plans and documentation in place, a relative or friend will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian for you. This is a public procedure that can be stressful, time consuming and costly. In addition, without your directions, a guardian might not make the decisions you would have made.

Advance medical directives. Without any legal documents that state your wishes, healthcare providers are obligated to prolong your life using artificial means, if necessary, even if you really don’t want this. To avoid this happening to you, sign an advance medical directive. There are three types of advance medical directives: a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care (or health-care proxy) and a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). Each of these documents has its own purpose, benefits and drawbacks, and may not be effective in some states. Employ an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare your medical directives to make certain that you have the ones you’ll need and that all documents are consistent.

Living will. This document lets you stipulate the types of medical care you want to receive, despite the fact that you will die as a result of the choice. Check with an estate planning attorney about how living wills are used in your state.

Durable power of attorney for health care. Also called a “health-care proxy,” this document lets you designate a representative to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). This is a physician’s order that tells all other medical staff not to perform CPR, if you go into cardiac arrest. There are two types of DNRs: (i) a DNR that’s only effective while you are hospitalized; and (ii) and DNR that’s used while you’re outside the hospital.

Durable power of attorney (DPOA). This document lets you to name an individual to act on your behalf. There are two types of DPOA: (i) an immediate DPOA. This document is effective immediately; and (ii) a springing DPOA, which isn’t effective until you’ve become incapacitated. Both types end at your death. Note that a springing DPOA isn’t legal in some states, so check with an estate planning attorney.

Incapacity can be determined by (i) physician certification where you can include a provision in a durable power of attorney naming one or more doctors to make the determination, or you can state that your incapacity will be determined by your attending physician at the relevant time; and (ii) judicial finding where a judge is petitioned to determine incapacity where a hearing is held where medical and other testimony will be heard.

Reference: The Post-Searchlight (December 13, 2019) “How to go about planning for incapacity”

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How to Spot Problems at Nursing Homes – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The best time to shop for a nursing home, is when you do not need one. If you wait until you can no longer safely or comfortably live on your own, you probably will not be in a position to do a lot of legwork to investigate facilities. Do your research well ahead of time, so you know the nursing homes in your area that provide high-quality care and, more importantly, the ones that have significant problems.

As you evaluate and compare facilities, you need to know how to spot problems at nursing homes. The marketing brochure, website and lobby might be lovely, but you should base your decision about a long-term care facility on much more data than those things. Here are some tips on how to dig for possible problems at nursing homes:

  • Online search. Check out the nursing home’s website to get an overview of the services it offers and the industry affiliations or certifications it has. Look at the daily menus to see if the meals are nutritious and have enough variety. Most people would not enjoy eating the same main course two or three times a week. Look at the activities calendar to see if you would be happy with the planned social events. On some websites, you can view the floor plans of the resident rooms.
  • Ask your primary care doctor to name a few facilities he would recommend for his parents, and those where he would not want them to live.
  • Local Office on Aging location. Every state has an Office on Aging. Contact them to get as much information as you can about safety records, injuries, deaths, regulation violations and complaints about local nursing homes.
  • Your state’s Long-term Care Ombudsman (LCO). Every state also has an Ombudsman who investigates allegations against nursing homes and advocates for the residents. Your state LCO should have a wealth of information about the facilities in your area.
  • State Online Database or Reporting System. Some states have online databases or collect reports about nursing homes.
  • Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website. Medicare maintains an online tool, Nursing Home Compare, that provides detailed information on nursing homes. Every nursing home that gets any funding from Medicare or Medicaid is in this database. You can enter the name of a specific nursing home or search for all the facilities in a city or zip code. The tool includes information about abuse at long-term care facilities. On the webpage, you can explore the Special Focus Facility section to find nursing homes with a history of problems.
  • Word of mouth. Ask your friends, relatives and neighbors to recommend a quality nursing home. Personal experience can be extremely valuable.
  • Make a short list of the top candidates. After you collect as much information as you reasonably can, narrow your options down to four or five facilities that best meet your needs and preferences.
  • Visit your top choices. There is no substitute for going to a nursing home and checking it out in person. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the place throughout, not just in the lobby. Give the facility the “sniff” test. Determine whether they use products to mask unpleasant odors, instead of cleaning thoroughly. See whether the residents are well-groomed and wearing fresh, clean clothes. Observe the interaction of the staff with the residents. Notice whether people who need assistance at mealtime, get the help they need without having to wait.
  • Take online reviews with a grain of salt. Fake reviews are all over the internet. If you see a nursing home with only a few reviews, and they are all five stars, be skeptical.

Once you gather this information, you will be ready in the event you need to stay in a nursing home for a short recuperation from surgery or longer term.

References:

AARP. “Finding a Nursing Home: Don’t Wait Until You Need One to Do the Research.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2019/finding-a-nursing-home.html

CMS. “Find a nursing home.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Do Special Needs Trusts Work? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This is only one of a million questions that parents of children with special needs or caregivers worry about every day,  it is always on their minds. Despite this worry, 72% of parents and caregivers have not yet named a trustee for their child or have not formally planned for their future care or guardianship. This is something that should be at the top of their to-do lists, says kake.com in the article “Special Needs Trusts are Always Available to those Who Need them.”

A Special Needs Trust, also known as an SNT, has many benefits for parents and caregivers, including peace of mind. Here’s what you need to know:

A special needs trust is a way to set aside money for a special needs child or individual. In 2016, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act. This new law made a number of changes to existing laws about SNTs. It gave children with special needs and adults the ability to get funding through a trust. The assets are available to them, in addition to any existing government-funded programs they were receiving. With a SNT, the individual can receive their public help and the extra money also. That includes an inheritance or life insurance payment, after their parents or caregivers pass away.

There are a number of different types of SNTs, so it’s important to talk with an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney who is familiar with the SNT laws and applicable law in your state. The most commonly used SNTs are called ‘self-settled’ trusts and ‘pooled’ trusts.

For a self-settled trust, the individual is allowed to create the trust by themselves, from their own money. If the individual is a minor, a parent or guardian must establish the trust and determine when the individual may take funds from it. Those who are not minors, may create this type of trust without the approval of the court.

A pooled trust is typically created when the individual is older than 65 and establishes the trust on their own.

A trustee must be named for the trust. This should be someone in whom the parents have great faith and confidence.

The biggest benefit for parents or caregivers is the peace of mind of knowing that the disabled individual will have access to additional funds, if they need them. Speak with an estate planning or elder law attorney who can help create the type of trust appropriate for your situation.

Reference: kake.com (Nov. 16, 2019) “Special Needs Trusts are Always Available to those Who Need them”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What is a Special Needs Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid are critical sources of support for those with disabilities, both in benefits and services.

To be eligible, a disabled person must satisfy restrictive income and resource limitations.

That’s why many families ask elder law and estate planning attorneys about the two types of special needs trusts.

Moberly Monitor’s recent article, “Things to know, things to do when considering a special needs trust,” explains that with planning and opening a special needs trust, family members can hold assets for the benefit of a family member without risking critical benefits and services.

If properly thought out, families can continue to support their loved one with a disability long after they’ve passed away.

After meeting the needs of their disabled family member, the resources are kept for further distribution within the family. Distributions from a special needs trust can be made to help with living and health care needs.

To establish a special needs trust, meet with an attorney with experience in this area of law. They work with clients to set up individualized special needs trusts frequently.

Pooled trust organizations can provide another option, especially in serving lower to more moderate-income families, where assets may be less and yet still affect eligibility for vital governmental benefits and services.

Talk to an elder law attorney to discuss what public benefits are being received, how a special needs trust works and other tax and financial considerations. With your attorney’s counsel, you can make the best decision on whether a special needs trust is needed or if another option is better based on your family’s circumstances.

Reference: Moberly Monitor (October 27, 2019) “Things to know, things to do when considering a special needs trust”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Should I Know About a Special Needs Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Your disabled family member may be eligible for a number of government programs. However, Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat’s recent article asks “Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?” The article reminds us that these programs don’t cover everything. You may need to close the gaps.

A few government programs have eligibility restrictions based on the level of financial assets that are available to the recipient. This means the financial help you’re wanting to provide may do more harm than good unless you establish a special needs trust.

As the donor, you supply the funds. A trustee holds and administers them according to your instructions. The beneficiary typically can’t use the trust for basic support or to receive benefits that can be provided by the government. The special needs trust can be used to provide specialized therapy, special equipment, recreational outings and other expenses.

When considering a special needs trust, you’ll need to look at several issues with your attorney.  However, there are two that are critical. The first is designating a trustee. You could name a family member or close friend as a trustee. While this works well for many, it has the potential to cause family conflicts. You could also name a trust company. This company can provide professional management, expertise and continuity of administration. A third option is to name an individual and a trust company as co-trustees.

The second critical issue with a special needs trust is funding the trust. You can fund the trust during your lifetime or have it activated when you die.

Note that you don’t have to be the sole donor. A special needs trust can be created so other family members can also contribute to it. The trust can be funded with securities (stocks and bonds), IRA proceeds, insurance death benefits and other assets.

You’ll need to understand the requirements of various federal, state and local benefit programs for people with disabilities, so that your loved one’s benefits are not at risk.

Speak with an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney about how you can to make life better for a disabled child or family member with a special needs trust.

Reference: Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat (August 1, 2019) “Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What’s the Latest on “Blue Water” Navy Veterans’ Benefits? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Justice Department told the U.S. Supreme Court that it will not challenge a landmark lower court ruling that “blue water” Navy veterans, who served during the Vietnam War, are covered by the federal Agent Orange Act.

According to The National Law Journal’s recent article, “Justice Department Will Not Challenge Benefits for Blue Water Navy Vets,” the decision by U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco ended months of uncertainty for tens of thousands of former service members or their survivors who may now be eligible for benefits for their exposure to Agent Orange.

In January, these blue water Navy veterans, who served on ships within the 12-mile territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam, won their case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The court held that the Agent Orange Act of 1991 includes those veterans. Until that ruling, these vets had been denied the presumption of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.

The Justice Department, in upholding the Department of Veterans Affairs’ interpretation, argued that the Agent Orange Act covered only those veterans who served on the ground or inland waterways of Vietnam.

The Federal Circuit rejected the Justice Department’s request to put its decision on hold while the government decided whether to appeal to the Supreme Court. Ever since, the Solicitor General has asked for several extensions from the Supreme Court as he decided whether to appeal. A decision to appeal the Federal Circuit ruling would have brought out the Trump administration in a fight with Vietnam veterans and the head of the Veterans Administration.

The Solicitor General, consulting with federal agencies, generally makes decisions on government appeals to the Supreme Court.

Francisco’s decision not to appeal was announced in a motion to dismiss in another case in the U.S. Supreme Court—Gray v. Wilkie. That action also involved a blue water Navy veteran. The Supreme Court had scheduled February arguments in the Gray case but removed it from the docket at the request of the Solicitor General, who said this recent decision, if not appealed, would also give the relief sought by Gray.

Reference: The National Law Journal (June 5, 2019) “Justice Department Will Not Challenge Benefits for Blue Water Navy Vets”

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What Do I Need to Know About ABLE Accounts? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Millions of Americans with disabilities and their families depend on public benefits to help provide income, health care, food and housing assistance. Eligibility for assistance through Supplemental Security Income, SNAP and Medicaid is based upon a resource test, so disabled individuals seeking benefits are typically limited to no more than $2,000 in savings or assets. This can present a difficult problem.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was created as a way to create a tax-advantaged savings tool for individuals with disabilities and their families.

nj.com’s article, “ABLE accounts–A tax advantaged tool for special needs planning,” advises that when used correctly, this overlooked savings account may allow families to build a small nest egg, without affecting eligibility for public program benefits.

An ABLE 529 account is designed to be a savings or investment account to supplement public benefits. It can be a powerful strategy for individuals, who previously were unable to build supplemental funds outside of a trust for their needs. An ABLE account is funded with after-tax contributions that can grow tax-free, when used for a qualified disability expense. The account owner is also the beneficiary and contributions can be made from any person including the account beneficiary, friends, and family.

The ABLE account is available to individuals with significant disabilities, whose age of onset of disability was before they turned 26. A person could be over the age of 26 but must have had an age of onset before their 26th birthday.

Contributions are restricted to $15,000 per year. Because the ABLE account is connected to the 529 plan for education, the total contribution limit is based upon the individual state’s limit for 529 plans. Individuals can have up to $100,000 in an ABLE account, without impacting SSI eligibility. The first $100,000 also does not count toward the $2,000 resource restriction.

A frequently asked question is whether to use an ABLE account or a Special Needs Trust for planning purposes. ABLE are subject to certain limitations that make it impossible, or at least ill advised, to use them instead of a Special Needs Trust. Remember that ABLE accounts can only receive $15,000 in deposits each year, but, in most cases, Special Needs Trusts can receive much larger contributions in a year, once they are funded. This is an important difference for parents who want to leave more substantial assets to their child when they die but don’t want to jeopardize the child’s eligibility for critical services. In that situation, a Special Needs Trust may be more desirable.

When the beneficiary of the ABLE account passes away, any leftover funds in the account are typically reimbursed to the state to defray the costs of providing services during the beneficiary’s life. However, that’s different than a properly drafted Special Needs Trust.

In 2019, ABLE account owners who work but don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account, can now save up to $12,140 in additional savings from their earnings.

Ask your estate planning attorney about possibly coordinating an ABLE account with a Special Needs Trust.

Reference: nj.com (April 20, 2019) “ABLE accounts – A tax advantaged tool for special needs planning”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys