Where Should an Estate Plan Be Stored? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you have a medical emergency or die unexpectedly, and your documents can’t be located, your family will be scrambling to give you the assistance you need or to close your final affairs, says AARP’s recent article, entitled “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers.”

Security and accessibility are the two primary factors in making the decision about where to store originals. However, frequently the most secure spot isn’t always the most accessible.

Some attorneys offer to keep the originals of your legal documents for safekeeping. However, this has drawbacks. Your family would have to contact the law firm and obtain the release of the documents.

If you opt to keep your original documents at home, secure them from fire or flood. A fire-rated safe is more protective than a file cabinet.

If you lock them up, remember that someone will need to either have a key or know where the key is.

If you decide not to provide copies or originals to your future caregivers and loved ones, tell them where they’ll be able to find the documents, if they need them (and how to access them!).

If you’re reluctant to tell them in advance, leave a letter of instruction for their use if you’re incapacitated or pass away.

Inform your attorney of the location and ask them to note it in your file or perhaps provide a copy of your letter of instruction for them to keep.

If you decide to change the location, let the attorney know.

When you draft new documents, make certain you destroy or discard your now-outdated documents.

Send a notice of revocation to anyone who’s holding copies or originals. If you’ve recorded any of those documents, record the notice of revocation as well. Also, ask that anyone holding copies also destroy or discard the documents in their possession.

You don’t want your loved ones to get delayed in probate court if they can only find a copy of your documents or, even worse, no documents at all.

Organization and dialog are critical to both safeguarding your paperwork and making it easy for your loved ones to use it when the time comes.

Questions? Request a consultation to speak with one of our attorneys.

Reference: AARP  (July 27, 2022) “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers”

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

What Estate Planning Can a Nursing Home Resident Do? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It can be difficult trying to understand the estate settlement process. It’s a system so arcane and frustrating that it can take months to complete. Family members must deal with probate, taxes, assets and debts — all while navigating their grief.

McKnight’s Senior Living’s recent article entitled “5 estate-planning steps your residents should know” says “it doesn’t have to be that hard, especially if the estate owner helps organize the estate before the time comes. While you already might know some steps, the list of things to consider will prove useful. Handling those steps in life is the kindest thing a person, especially a resident of a care facility, can do for his or her family. That’s because these steps are far more difficult for an executor to complete, if they have not been thoughtfully planned.

  1. Name an executor. The first thing is to choose the person who will carry out the terms of the last will and testament. A senior should make certain this individual is able to take on such a complex role and notify them in advance. A critical part of the process for a care facility resident, depending on their circumstances, can be creating joint accounts with the executor. Doing this can ensure that money won’t be trapped in probate after the resident’s passing. Beware: there are risks associated with this approach because the surviving joint owner becomes the legal owner and may use it personally rather than for estate expenses.
  2. Create a list of assets and liabilities. Collect all important records on paper or in a digital vault for the executor to reference and fulfill when needed. This should include a list of all digital accounts, debts owed and to whom, any valuable and sentimental items, as well as assets passing outside of probate by joint ownership, beneficiary designations and title in trust. When questions arise, the executor won’t have to sift through documents and get frustrated if an important document or asset can’t be found.
  3. Determine how the estate should be distributed. The resident should have an estate distribution plan that can be added to the will to help lessen the burden on the executor.
  4. Draft a last will. When the last will is created, the resident should ensure that loved ones and beneficiaries are aware of the terms, so there are no issues. Make sure that the will can be authenticated easily later. Keep it in a central place with other important documents.
  5. Prepare for probate. Probate is the process of authenticating the last will. It lets debts and assets move from the deceased’s estate to the executor. Every state has its own probate rules. A resident must be aware of two primary things. First, finding the right probate court. If the resident has moved recently or lives in a senior living community far from his or her original home, then probate may be required in the new state rather than the state they call “home.” Second, the resident must understand and plan for probate-related fees.

There are ways to avoid probate, to include those mentioned earlier in this post, such as placing assets in a trust. Contact us to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about probate avoidance tactics, if you want to explore options to simplify the estate settlement process.

Reference: McKnight’s Senior Living (Sep. 29, 2022) “5 estate-planning steps your residents should know”

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

What Should I Know About Long-Term Care? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Long-term care insurance is a specialty type of insurance that helps pay for costs that are typically connected with long-term care. This can include items such as care given in a hospital, nursing home services, medical services provided in your home and treatment for dementia.

WGN’s recent article entitled “10 Crucial Things to Know about Long-Term Care“ looks at these important items.

  1. The Biggest Financial Threat. The most significant threat to your financial nest egg is long-term care. About 70% of people over 65 will need some kind of long-term care during their life. The national average for home health care services is $16,743 per month. However, there are ways to manage this without buying a traditional long-term care insurance policy where “you use it or lose it.”
  2. Long-Term Care Insurance is Really “Lifestyle” Insurance. It’s NOT nursing home insurance.
  3. Reverse Mortgages. These have become a popular and accepted way of paying for expenses, including the cost of long-term care. Reverse mortgages are designed to keep seniors at home longer. A reverse mortgage can pay for in-home care, home repair, home modification and other needs.
  4. Using Medicaid to Pay for Long-Term Care. This should be a last resort to pay for long-term care, but it also may be the only way to protect family assets. Medicaid will pay for long-term care, but certain criteria must be satisfied. Talk to an elder law attorney before applying for Medicaid.
  5. Important Considerations When Selecting a Long-Term Care Plan. Four things to consider: (i) go with a company with an AM BEST rating of A+ or better; (ii) the assets of the insurance company should be in the billions; (iii) some long-term care insurers will allow for group discounts through employers, or “affinity” group discounts through a local organization; and (iv) the tax advantages for tax-qualified long-term care insurance plans. At the federal level, premiums for long-term care insurance fall into the “medical expense” category. On the state level, 26 states offer some form of deduction or tax credit for long-term care insurance premiums.
  6. The Annuity-Based Long-Term Care & The Pension Protection Act. In 2006, this law was enacted to permit those with annuity contracts to have long-term care riders with special tax advantages. The Act allows the cash value of annuity contracts to be used to pay premiums on long-term care contracts.
  7. Asset-Based Long-Term Care Solutions. The best planning approach for those who choose to self-insure is to “invest” some of their legacy assets so the assets can be worth as much as possible whenever they may be needed to pay for care. If unneeded, the money would then pass to the intended heirs, with no “use it or lose it” issues as with conventional long-term care insurance.
  8. Long-Term Care Strategy Using IRA Money. Most people use their IRA to supplement retirement. However, sometimes waiting until age 72 when mandatory required minimum distribution rules apply, some people have instead opted to take a portion of their IRA and fund an IRA-based annuity which then systematically funds a 20-pay life insurance plan with long-term care features. This type of IRA-based long-term care policy is unique in the sense that it starts out as an IRA annuity policy, also known as a tax-qualified annuity, and then over a 20-year period makes equal distribution internally to the insurance carrier and funds the life insurance.
  9. Important Documents for Long-Term Care Planning. Contact us to ask one of our experienced estate planning attorneys about a power of attorney for health care and financial power of attorney, as well as an advance directive or living will.
  10. Using Veterans Benefits to Pay for Long-Term Care. The VA offers a special pension: the Aid and Attendance (A&A) Benefit. This is a “pension benefit” and is not dependent upon service-related injuries for compensation.

Reference: WGN (2022) “10 Crucial Things to Know about Long-Term Care“

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

How to Manage Aging Parent’s Finances – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A day will come when age begins to catch up with your parents and they will need help with their finances. Even if your parents don’t want to feel dependent, when you think they need your assistance, you can approach the issue with sensitivity and extend your support for the management of their finances, says Real Daily’s recent article entitled “5 Tips to Manage an Aging Parent’s Finances.” Here are some tips:

  1. Start the conversation early. Your parents may not need your help with the handling of their financial matters right away. However, it is smart to begin the conversation early. Approach the issue of who will manage the financial responsibilities when they’re no longer able to do it. Parents should select a trusted family member by providing their advance written consent. This will let you to talk about your parents’ financial issues with financial advisors, doctors and Medicare representatives and carry out timely financial planning.
  2. Create a list of all pertinent legal and financial documents. Prepare a list of your parents’ important contacts, bank account details and locations of any stored documents, like wills, property deeds, insurance policies and birth certificates. Make certain all information and documentation is accurate and up to date. If information needs to be modified because of a change of circumstances, this is time to apprise them of it and help them do what’s needed.
  3. Consider executing a power of attorney. A competent adult can sign a power of attorney to authorize another person to make decisions on their behalf. A power of attorney for a specific purpose may cover medical, financial, or other decisions, and it may be designed to give limited or more sweeping powers. When your parents sign a power of attorney with you named as their attorney in fact, it will legally empower you to make key decisions when they can’t. An elder law attorney can help you draft an appropriate power of attorney according to your situation.
  4. Document your actions and keep others in the know. Transparent communication will help you avoid misunderstandings or controversy within your family. Keep your parents, siblings and any other loved ones involved with your family informed about your actions. No matter how noble your intentions may be, if others are kept in the dark, it can raise questions about your motives. Managing the finances of aging parents is a lot of work, and you can ask for the support of family members or at least keep the lines of communication open.
  5. Don’t comingle your finances with your parents’ plans. While it may look to be a convenient or cost-effective thing to do, it’s never a good idea to combine your parents’ finances with your own. Keep them separate. Using your parents’ money for your purposes or your own money to help them out is usually a slippery slope that should be avoided. Don’t forget about your own financial goals and retirement savings while you focus on helping your parents.

Reference: Real Daily (Sep. 9, 2022) “5 Tips to Manage an Aging Parent’s Finances”

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

There are Less Restrictive Alternatives than Guardianship – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The benefit of restrictive alternatives to guardianships is that they don’t require court approval or judicial oversight. They are also much easier to set up and end.

The standard for establishing incapacity is also less rigorous than the standard required for a guardianship, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First.”

Limited guardianships. A guardianship takes away an individual’s right to make decisions, just as full guardianships do, but they are specific to only some aspects of the person’s life. A limited guardianship can be established to manage an individual’s finances and estate or to control medical and health care decisions. These types of guardianships still require court approval and must be supported by a showing of incapacity.

Powers of attorney. Powers of attorney can be established for medical or for financial decisions. A second set of eyes ensures that financial decisions are well-considered and not harmful to the individual or his or her estate. A medical power of attorney can allow an agent to get an injunction to protect the health and well-being of the subject, including by seeking a determination of mental incapacity. A durable power of attorney for health care matters gives the agent the right to make medical decisions on behalf of the subject if or when they are unable to do so for themselves. Unlike a guardianship, powers of attorney can be canceled when they are no longer needed.

Assisted decision-making. This agreement establishes a surrogate decision-maker who has visibility to financial transactions. The bank is informed of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it identifies an unusual or suspicious transaction. While this arrangement doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority, it creates a safety mechanism to prevent exploitation or fraud. The bank is on notice that a second approval is required before an uncommon transaction can be completed.

Wills and trusts. These estate planning documents let people map out what will happen in the event they become incapacitated or otherwise incapable of managing their affairs. Trusts can avoid guardianship by appointing a friend or relative to manage money and other assets. A contingent trust will let the executor manage assets if necessary. For seniors, it may be wise to name a co-trustee who can oversee matters and step in should the trustor lose the capacity to make good decisions.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

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

Will Making a Gift Conflict with Medicaid? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

People usually make gifts for three reasons—because they enjoy giving gifts, because they want to protect assets, or minimize tax liability. However, gifting in one’s elder years can have expensive and unintended consequences, as reported in the article “IRS standards for gifting differ from Medicaid” from The News-Enterprise.

The IRS gift tax becomes expensive, if gifts are large. However, each individual has a lifetime gift exemption and, as of this writing, it is $12.06 million, which is historically high. A married couple may make a gift of $24.12 million. Most people don’t get anywhere near these levels. Those who do are advised to do estate and tax planning to protect their assets.

The current lifetime gift tax exemption is scheduled to drop to $5.49 million per person after 2025, unless Congress extends the higher exemption, which seems unlikely.

The IRS also allows an annual exemption. For 2022, the annual exemption is $16,000 per person. Anyone can gift up to $16,000 per person and to multiple people, without reducing their lifetime exemption.

People often confuse the IRS annual exclusion with Medicaid requirements for eligibility. IRS gift tax rules are totally different from Medicaid rules.

Medicaid does not offer an annual gift exclusion. Medicaid penalizes any gift made within 60 months before applying to Medicaid, unless there has been a specific exception.

For Medicaid purposes, gifts include outright gifts to individuals, selling property for less than fair market value, transferring assets to a trust, or giving away partial interests.

The Veterans Administration may also penalize gifts made within 36 months before applying for certain VA programs based on eligibility.

Gifting can have serious capital gains tax consequences. Gifts of real estate property to another person are given with the giver’s tax basis. When real property is inherited, the property is received with a new basis of fair market value.

For gifting high value assets, the difference in tax basis can lead to either a big tax bill or big tax savings. Let’s say someone paid $50,000 for land 40 years ago, and today the land is worth $650,000. The appreciation of the property is $600,000. If the property is gifted while the owner is alive, the recipient has a $50,000 tax basis. When the recipient sells the property, they will have to pay a capital gains tax based on the $50,000.

If the property was inherited, the tax would be either nothing or next to nothing.

Asset protection for Medicaid is complicated and requires the experience and knowledge of an elder law attorney. What worked for your neighbor may not work for you, as we don’t always know all the details of someone else’s situation.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Aug. 6, 2022) “IRS standards for gifting differ from Medicaid”

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

What Should I Know about Guardianships? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Guardianships – also known as conservatorships – are drastic and invasive. They strip away control adults otherwise exercise over their own lives and establish someone else as the decision-maker.  They require a rigorous showing of legal incapacity and approval by a judge. In many jurisdictions, parties must establish a specific need for guardianship and demonstrate that other alternatives considered would not adequately protect the individual.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First” says that guardianships should never be undertaken lightly. Once established, they can be extremely difficult to undo. Therefore, other options should always be considered first.

Guardianships ensure that those who are unable to handle their own affairs are not exploited or injured. There are circumstances when a guardianship may be the best – or only – choice. For example, an elderly gentleman with dementia may have lacked the planning to make adequate provisions in his will or trust for management of his affairs. Without a plan for oversight of his assets, he could end up jeopardizing the estate he intended to pass on to his family. In that case, the heirs may look to have a court-appointed guardian appointed who will ensure that their father or grandfather does not sign away his estate or compromise his physical well-being.

Transparency is important. Before it becomes necessary for a guardian to be appointed to handle your physical or financial decisions, consider whom you would trust to act in that capacity and put it in writing.

It also informs others that, if a guardian is needed, this person is the one you would like to see serve in that capacity.

A one-page directive will make your wishes clear and keep this important decision from a judge who will know nothing about you or your priorities or your specific circumstances.

In addition, you should delegate a second person now to support you in the future. It is preferable that this is someone younger whom you trust. This individual will bring a fresh perspective to the situation. They should also possess a sound understanding of money management.

If you do not consider these things now, the state will make the decision for you after you no longer can make such decisions for yourself.

Talk with an experienced elder law attorney and create the documents now that will save your loved ones from having to seek guardianship for you in the future.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

 

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

Should a Reverse Mortgage Be Used for Long-Term Care? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Someone turning 65 has nearly a 7-in-10 chance of needing long-term care in the future, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. However, many people do not have the savings to manage the cost of assisted living. What they do have is a mortgage-free home — and the equity in it, giving them the potential option of a reverse mortgage to help cover care costs.

MSN’s recent article entitled “A reverse mortgage could be one way to pay for long-term care, but should you do it?” looks at how to evaluate whether a reverse mortgage might be a smart option.

A reverse mortgage is a loan or line of credit on the assessed value of your home. Most reverse mortgages are federally backed Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or HECMs, which are loans up to a federal limit of $970,800. Homeowners must be 62 years old to apply.

If you have at least 50% to 55% equity in your home, you have a good chance of qualifying for a loan or line of credit for a portion of that equity. The amount depends on your age and the home’s appraised value. Note that you must keep paying taxes and insurance on the home. The loan is repaid when the borrower dies or moves out. If there are two borrowers, the line of credit remains until the second borrower dies or moves out.

A reverse mortgage can provide a stream of income to pay for long-term care. However, there are some limitations. A reverse mortgage requires that you live in the home.

If you are the sole borrower of a reverse mortgage, and you move to a care facility for a year or longer, you will be in violation of the loan requirements. Therefore, you will have to repay the loan.

Because of the costs, reverse mortgages are also best suited for a circumstance where you plan to stay in your home long-term. They do not make sense if your home is not right for aging in place or if you plan to move in the next three to five years. However, for home health care or paying for a second borrower who is in a nursing home, this loan can help bridge the gap.

The income is also tax-free, and it does not affect your Social Security or Medicare benefits.

Reverse mortgages are expensive. The costs are equal to those of a traditional mortgage, 3% to 5% of the home’s appraised value. Interest accrues on any portion you have used, so eventually you will owe more than you have borrowed. Finally, you will leave less to your heirs.

Reference: MSN (June 13, 2022) “A reverse mortgage could be one way to pay for long-term care, but should you do it?”

 

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

What’s Involved in an Estate Inventory? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you are named as executor of an estate, you will be tasked with identifying all the assets of the decedent. Let’s look at some of the options you may have for identifying assets:

  • The deceased’s will if they have one
  • Their financial statements or legal documents
  • Their recent tax returns
  • Abandoned asset database searching; and
  • A public property records search.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?” says you may also be able to find assets for an estate inventory by talking to the decedent’s financial advisor, estate planning attorney, or relatives. An executor must be as thorough as possible, so the final inventory list submitted to the probate court is accurate and complete.

If you are planning your estate, you can make this job easier for your executor by creating an estate inventory yourself. Keep a copy of this inventory with a copy of your will, if you have one in place. (If you do not have a will, draft one sooner rather than later.) If you pass without a will in place, your assets would be distributed according to state law.

If you are making an inventory of your estate, include the types of assets for which an executor might search. Depending on your financial situation, your personal estate inventory might include:

  • A 401(k) plan or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan
  • Traditional or Roth IRAs
  • Business retirement accounts, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP IRA if you are self-employed
  • Taxable brokerage accounts
  • A Health Savings Account (HSA)
  • College savings accounts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank accounts
  • Vehicles
  • Real estate and land
  • Personal possessions that are valued at $500 or more; and
  • Family heirlooms, antiques, or collectibles.

The executor’s job can be simplified by making a list of any liabilities or debts that you owe. This can include a mortgage on your home, auto loans, private student loans, credit cards, installment loans, business loans, tax liens, medical bills and personal loans. Once you complete your personal estate inventory you may want to file a copy of it with your estate planning attorney. Review your inventory annually to make certain that it is up to date.

Knowing what is included in an estate inventory can make your job as an executor easier. If you submit an incomplete inventory, it may delay the probate process.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Feb. 15, 2022) “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?”

 

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