Why Do Seniors Get Scammed by Family Members? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Detroit Free Press’ recent article entitled “Elderly getting scammed by their own family members — and one group wants to stop it” says that the average victim can lose $120,000 to financial exploitation, according to AARP research. Repeated, out-of-the-ordinary cash withdrawals are a big sign of exploitation and scams.

“People are literally being robbed every day through scams or financial exploitation from members of their own family,” said Debra Whitman, executive vice president and chief public policy officer at AARP.

As part of the battle, AARP has launched a new online training module for bank and credit union employees who work with customers on the front lines as a way to prevent financial exploitation.

Instances of elder financial abuse can increase during the holidays because more family members and friends are around.

Financial exploitation has included abusing the relationship with an older relative or friend to force him or her into giving them a big portion of savings that’s in a bank or transferring property to someone else. It may begin with withdrawing just a few hundred dollars from a bank account and then build to repeated requests for more money. This type of exploitation may include misusing a power of attorney by denying an elderly person access to his or her own money and withdrawing money out of a senior’s bank account.

Many perpetrators are known to the victim, such as family members, caregivers, or other workers in the home. In addition to losing a life’s savings, seniors who are victims of scammers or loved ones can have a more rapid decline in health because of the emotional stress from being a victim of financial abuse.

According to a report called “Suspicious Activity Reports on Financial Exploitation: Issues and Trends” released in February by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, older adults lost an average of $48,300, when the activity involved a checking or savings account. This type of suspicious activity on average took place over a four-month period. Suspicious activity reports for elder financial exploitation quadrupled from 2013 to 2017. In 2017, this activity totaled 63,500 incidents. These reports may also be only a fraction of actual incidents, which may go unreported by victims.

AARP is promoting an online training effort called BankSafe that trains bank tellers and other front-line staff to take more direct action when they suspect a case of financial exploitation. They are encouraged to ask the customer probing questions when they see a possible red flag and even mention the situation to a supervisor who may be able to intervene.

AARP’s BankSafe pilot program was launched for six months at nearly 500 branches of banks and credit unions in 11 states. Nearly $1 million was protected when front line employees who participated in the pilot program intervened and stopped criminals from stealing money from the accounts of seniors. In some instances, the bank employee who stopped someone from being exploited refused or delayed a suspicious transaction, put a hold on the account, or explained concerns to the customer who was a potential victim.

The average victim was a woman between 70 and 79 with less than $20,000 in her bank account, according to the new AARP research. The estimated cost of financial exploitation varies but may be more than $2.9 billion a year.

Reference: Detroit Free Press (October 16, 2019) “Elderly getting scammed by their own family members — and one group wants to stop it”

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

When Should I Start Looking into Long-Term Care? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

You can bet that you won’t need long-term care in your lifetime, but it’s not a sure thing: about 70% of seniors 65 and older require long-term care at some point.

Long-term care could be just a few months with a home health aide or it could mean a year (or more) of nursing home care. You can’t know for sure. However, without long-term care insurance, you run the risk that you’ll be forced to cover a very large expense on your own.

The Motley Fool’s recent article, “75% of Older Americans Risk This Major Expense in the Future,” says many older workers are going into retirement without long-term care coverage in place. In a recent Nationwide survey, 75% of future retirees aged 50 and over said they that don’t have long-term care insurance. If that’s you, you should begin considering it, because the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to qualify, and the more expensive it becomes.

Long-term care insurance can be costly, which is why many people don’t buy it. However, the odds are that your policy won’t be anywhere near as expensive as the actual price for the care you could end up needing. That’s why it’s important to look at your options for long-term care insurance. The ideal time to apply is in your mid-50s. At that age, you’re more likely to be approved along with some discounts on your premiums. If you wait too long, you’ll risk being denied or seeing premiums that are prohibitively expensive.

Note that not all policies are not the same. Therefore, you should look at what items are outside of your premium costs. This may include things such as the maximum daily benefit the policy permits or the maximum time frame covered by your policy. It should really be two years at a minimum. There are policies written that have a waiting period for having your benefits kick in and others that either don’t have one or have shorter time frames. Compare your options and see what makes the most sense.

You don’t necessarily need the most expensive long-term care policy available. If you’ve saved a good amount for retirement, you’ll have the option of tapping your IRA or 401(k) to cover the cost of your care. The same is true if you own a home worth a lot of money because you can sell it or borrow against it.

It’s important to remember to explore your options for long-term care insurance before that window of opportunity shuts because of age or health problems. Failing to secure a policy could leave you to cover what could be a devastatingly expensive bill.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 23, 2019) “75% of Older Americans Risk This Major Expense in the Future”

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How Do I Find a Great Estate Planning Attorney? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Taking care of these important planning tasks will limit the potential for family fighting and possible legal battles in the event you become incapacitated, as well as after your death. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid mistakes and missteps and assist you in adjusting your plans as your individual situation and the laws change.

Next Avenue’s recent article “How to Find a Good Estate Planner” offers a few tips for finding one:

Go with a Specialist. Not every lawyer specializes in estate planning, so look for one whose primary focus is estate and trust law in your area. After you’ve found a few possibilities, ask him or her for references. Speak to those clients to get a feel for what it will be like to work with this attorney, as well as the quality of his or her work.

Ask About Experience.  Ask about the attorney’s trusts-and-estates experience. Be sure your attorney can handle your situation, whether it is a complex business estate or a small businesses and family situation. If you have an aging parent, work with an elder law attorney.

Be Clear on Prices. The cost of your estate plan will depend on the complexity of your needs, your location and your attorney’s experience level. When interviewing potential candidates, ask them what they’d charge you and how you’d be charged. Some estate planning attorneys charge a flat fee. If you meet with a flat-fee attorney, ask exactly what the cost includes and ask if it’s based on a set number of visits or just a certain time period. You should also see which documents are covered by the fee and whether the fee includes the cost of any future updates. There are some estate-planning attorneys who charge by the hour.

It’s an Ongoing Relationship. See if you’re comfortable with the person you choose because you’ll be sharing personal details of your life and concerns with them.

Reference: Next Avenue (September 10, 2019) “How to Find a Good Estate Planner”

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

How Can I Plan for Medical Expenses in Retirement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Healthcare can be one of the biggest expenses in retirement.

Fidelity Investments found that a 65-year-old newly retired couple will need $285,000 for medical expenses in retirement. That doesn’t include the annual cost of long-term care. In 2018, that expense ran from $18,720 for adult day care services to $100,375 for a private room in a nursing home, according to Investopedia’s recent article, “How to Plan for Medical Expenses in Retirement.”

Despite saving and preparing for retirement their entire lives, many retirees aren’t mentally or financially prepared for these types of expenses. A survey by HSA Bank found that 67% of adults 65 and older thought that they’d need less than $100,000 for healthcare. However, Fidelity calculated that males 65 and older will need $133,000—and females, $147,000—to pay for healthcare in retirement.

There are two important numbers for healthcare expenses in retirement: how much money is coming in and how much is going out. A typical person in their 60s has an estimated median savings of $172,000. On average, those 65 and older spend $3,800 per month, but Social Security only replaces about 40% of their working-life income.

Medicare can pay for some healthcare spending in retirement. However, there are some limitations. If a senior doesn’t have a Part D prescription drug policy, Medicare won’t cover medications. Medicare Parts A and B won’t cover dental and vision care, but Medicare Advantage plans typically do. Medicare also doesn’t offer coverage for long-term care. Medicare Advantage plans are offered through private insurers.

There are two ways pre-retirees can create a safety net for healthcare spending when they retire. One way is with a Health Savings Account (HSA). HSAs are available with high-deductible health plans and offer three tax advantages: (i) deductible contributions; (ii) tax-deferred growth; and (iii) tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses. HSA funds can be used to pay for certain medical premiums, like Medicare premiums and long-term care insurance premiums. If you’re in your 50s, you can still maximize these plans by taking advantage of catch-up contributions and employer contributions. However, those already enrolled in Medicare can’t make new contributions to an HSA.

You can also buy long-term care insurance to fill the gap left by Medicare. This policy can pay a monthly benefit toward long-term care for a two-to three-year period.

Healthcare spending can easily take a big bite out of a retirement budget. Estimate your costs and design a strategy for spending to help preserve more retirement assets for other expenses.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2019) “How to Plan for Medical Expenses in Retirement”

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

Are You Prepared to Age in Place? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If aging in place is your goal, then long-term planning needs to be considered, including how the house will function as you age, accommodations for the people who will care for you and how to pay for care, says the Record Online in the article “Start planning now so you can ‘age in place.’”

Many homes will need to be remodeled for aging in place and those changes may be big or small. Typical changes include installing ramps and adding a bathroom and bedroom on the first floor. Smaller changes include installing properly anchored grab bars in the shower, improving lighting and changing floor covering to avoid problems with walkers, wheelchairs or unsteady seniors.

Choosing a caregiver and paying for care are intertwined issues. Many adult children become caregivers for aging parents and for the most part they are unpaid. Family caregivers suffer enormous losses, including lost work, career advancement, income and savings. Stress and neglect of their own health and family is a common byproduct.

You’ll want to speak with an estate planning elder care attorney about how or if the parent may compensate the child for their caregiving. If the payment is deemed to be a gift, it will cause a penalty period when Medicaid won’t pay for care. A caregiver agreement drafted by an elder law estate planning attorney will allow the parents to pay without a penalty period. The child will need to report this income on their tax returns.

The best way to plan ahead for aging in place is with the purchase of a long-term care insurance policy. If you qualify for a policy and can afford to pay for it, it is good way to protect assets and income from going towards caregiver costs. You can also relieve the family caregiver from duties or pay them for caregiving out of the insurance proceeds.

Without long-term care insurance, the next option is to apply for community Medicaid to pay for care in the home if available in your state. To qualify, a single applicant can keep $15,450 in assets plus the house, up to an equity limit of $878,000 and only $878 per month of income. For a married couple, when one spouse applies for community Medicaid, the couple may keep $22,800 in assets plus the house and $1,287 per month of income. If the applicant or spouse are on a managed care plan, the couple may keep more assets and income.

Another option is spousal refusal, which may allow the couple to keep more assets and income. When an applicant has too much income, a pooled income trust may be used to shelter income from going towards the cost of care. This is a complicated process that requires working with an estate planning attorney to ensure that it is set up correctly.

Self-paying for home care is another option, but it is expensive. The average cost of home health care in some areas is $25 per hour, or $600 per day. When you get to these costs, they are the same as an expensive nursing home.

Planning in advance with careful analysis of the different choices will give the individual and the family the best picture of what may come with aging in place. A better decision can be made once all the information is clearly assessed.

Reference: Record Online (Aug. 31, 2019) “Start planning now so you can ‘age in place’”

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

How Do I Discuss My Parents’ Long-Term Financial Goals With Them? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A recent study by Ameriprise Financial found that more than one-third of adult children say they haven’t had a conversation about their parents’ long-term financial goals. Even though discussing this delicate topic may seem uncomfortable, addressing it now can help avoid challenges and uncertainty in the future.

To that end, the Ameriprise Family Wealth Checkup study found that those who talk about money matters, feel more confident about their financial future.

The Enterprise’s recent article, “Four financial questions to ask your parents,” provides some questions that can help you start the dialogue.

“What do you want to achieve in the next five or 10 years?” Understand your parents’ aspirations for the next few years. This includes their personal and financial goals and when they plan to retire (if they haven’t already). Do they want to move closer to their grandchildren or to warmer weather? Getting an idea of how they want to spend their time, will help you know what to expect in the years ahead.

“Where is your financial information located in case of an emergency?” An incident can happen at any time, so it’s essential that you know how to access key personal, financial and estate planning documents. You should have the contact info for their financial adviser, tax professional and estate planning attorney, and be sure your parents have the right permissions set, so you can step in when the need arises. You should also ask your parents to share the passwords for their primary accounts or let you know where you can find a password list.

“How do you see your legacy?” Talk to your parents about how they want to be remembered and their plans for making that happen. These components can be essential to the discussion:

  • Ask them if they have an updated will or trust, and if there’s anything they’d like to disclose about how the assets will be distributed.
  • Health care choices and expenses are often a big source of stress for retirees. Talk to your parents about their current health priorities and the future and have them formalize their wishes in a health-care directive, which lets them name a loved one to make medical decisions, if they’re unable to do so.

“How can I help?” Proactively offering to help, may get rid of some of the frustrations or relieve stress for even the most independent and well-prepared parents. The assistance may be non-financial, like doing house projects or giving them more time with their grandchildren. You should also look into including an attorney in the discussion, if your parents have estate planning questions.

Retirement and legacy planning can be complex. However, taking the time to have frequent conversations with your parents, can help you all prepare for the future.

Reference: The Enterprise (August 19, 2019) “Four financial questions to ask your parents”

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

Can You Protect Your Home If You Need Medicaid? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Anyone who owns a home, whether a magnificent mansion or a modest ranch, worries about the possibility of losing the home because of long-term care. How can they keep the home for their spouse or even for their family, if they need to apply to Medicaid for long-term nursing care costs?

The problem, reports The Mercury in a recent article “Protecting your house and Medicaid” is often the strategies that people come up with on their own. They usually don’t work.

The first thought of someone who is confronted with the need to qualify for Medicaid is to immediately transfer ownership of the family home to another person. The idea is to take the home out of their countable assets. But unless the person who receives the house is an adult child, that transfer only leads to problems.

Medicaid’s basic premise is that if you can afford to pay for your own care, you should. Transfer of a home, let’s say one with a value of $400,000, means that a $400,000 gift has been given to someone. There is a five-year lookback period. Any assets given away or transferred in that five-year period means that you had the asset under your control. Medicaid will not pay for your care in that case.

There are some exceptions to the gifting rules, but this is not something to be navigated without the help of an experienced elder law estate planning attorney. Here are the exceptions:

Your spouse. It’s understood that your spouse needs a place to live and a transfer of the home to your spouse does not result in penalties under Medicaid rules. This usually means transfer from title as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants by the entireties to the healthier wife or husband. It is also understood that a transfer to your spouse at home is not a disqualifying transfer. This is a common practice and part of Medicaid planning.

A disabled child. A parent may transfer a house to their disabled child on the theory that it is needed for self-support. It is not necessary for a child to lose a home because a parent will be on Medicaid. This is a common mistake, and completely avoidable. Talk with an elder law attorney to learn more.

If a child is a caretaker. An adult child who moves in with the parents for a period of at least two years to care for them so they could stay at home and avoid going to a nursing home, or if the child has lived with their parents for longer than that and they need this care at home, under federal law the home can be transferred to the child without penalty and the parent can go to a nursing home and receive care under Medicaid. This is another very common mistake that causes adult children to be left without a home.

For a person who is single or a widow or widower who will never move home after moving into a Medicaid certified nursing home, the house may be sold and planning can be done with the proceeds of the sale. Paying bills to maintain a vacant home for no reason and having the government take the home as a creditor through the estate recovery program does not make sense. An elder lawyer estate planning attorney can help navigate this complex and often overwhelming process.

Reference: The Mercury (July 31, 2019) “Protecting your house and Medicaid”

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

Planning for the Unexpected – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A woman was not notified when her elderly mother had fallen and hurt herself.  Sadly, this is not an unusual situation.

The daughter spoke with her mother once or twice a week, and the fall happened just after their last conversation. She dropped what she was doing and drove to the hospital, according to the article “Parents” in BusinessWest.com. At the hospital, she was worried that her mother was suffering from more than fractures, as her mother was disoriented because of the pain medications.

The conversation with her brother and mother about why she wasn’t notified immediately was frustrating. They “didn’t want to worry her.” She was worried, and not just about her mother’s well-being, but about her finances, and whether any plans were in place for this situation.

Her brother was a retired comptroller, and she thought that as a former financial professional, he would have taken care of everything. That was not the case.

Despite his professional career, the brother had never had “the talk” with his mother about money. No one knew if she had an estate plan, and if she did, where the documents were located.

All too often, families discover that no planning has taken place during an emergency.

The conversation took place in the hospital, when the siblings learned that documents had never been updated after their father had passed—more than 20 years earlier! The attorney who prepared the documents had retired long ago. The originals? Mom had no idea. The names of her banks and financial institutions had changed so many times over the years, that she wasn’t even sure where her money was.

For this family, the story had a happy ending. Once the mother got out of the hospital, the family made an appointment to meet with an estate planning attorney to get all of her estate planning and elder law planning completed. In addition, the family updated beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts, which are now set to avoid probate.

Both siblings have a list of their mother’s assets, account numbers, credit card information and what’s more, they are tracking the accounts to ensure that any sort of questionable transactions are reviewed quickly. They finally have a clear picture of their mother’s expenses, assets and income.

If your family’s situation is closer to the start of the story than the end, it’s time to contact a qualified estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice in your state and have all the necessary preparation done. Don’t wait until you’re uncovering family mysteries in the hospital.

Reference: BusinessWest.com (Aug. 1, 2019) “Parents”

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

Elder Law Estate Planning for the Future – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Seniors who are parents of adult children can make their children’s lives easier, by making the effort to button down major goals in elder law estate planning, advises Times Herald-Record in the article “Three ways for seniors to make things easier for their kids.” Those tasks are planning for disability, protecting assets from long-term care or nursing home costs and minimizing costs and stress in passing assets to the next generation. Here’s what you need to do, and how to do it.

Disability planning includes signing advance directives. These are legal documents that are created while you still have all of your mental faculties. Naming people who will make decisions on your behalf, if and when you become incapacitated, gives those you love the ability to take care of you without having to apply for guardianship or other legal proceedings. Advance directives include powers of attorney, health care powers or attorney or proxies and living wills.

Your power of attorney will make all and any legal and financial decisions on your behalf. In addition, if you use the elder law power of attorney, they are able to make unlimited gifting powers that may save about half of a single person’s assets from the cost of nursing home care. With a health care proxy, a person is named who can make medical decisions. In a living will, you have the ability to convey your wishes for end-of-life care, including resuscitation and artificial feeding.

When advance directives are in place, you spare your family the need to have a judge appoint a legal guardian to manage your affairs. That saves time, money and keeps the judiciary out of your life. Your children can act on your behalf when they need to, during what will already be a very difficult time.

Goal number two is protecting assets from the cost of long-term care. Losing the family home and retirement savings to unexpected nursing costs is devasting and may be avoided with the right planning. The first and best option is to purchase long-term care insurance. If you don’t have or can’t obtain a policy, the next best is the Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT) that is used to protect assets in the trust from nursing home costs, after the assets have been in the trust for five years.

The third thing that will make your adult children’s lives easier, is to have a will. This lets you leave assets to the family as you want, with the least amount of court costs, legal fees, taxes and family battles over inheritances. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to have a will created.  If your attorney advises it, you can also consider having trusts created, so your assets can be placed into the trusts and avoid probate, which is a public process. A trust can be easier for children, because estates settle more quickly.

Think of estate planning as part of your legacy of taking care of your family, ensuring that your hard-earned assets are passed to the next generation. You can’t avoid your own death, or that of your spouse, but you can prepare so those you love are helped by thoughtful and proper planning.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 13, 2019) “Three ways for seniors to make things easier for their kids”

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

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jane Frankel Sims

410-828-7775

Contact: Frank Campbell

410-263-1667

Sims & Campbell Estates and Trusts

Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell
Merge to Form Sims & Campbell

Firm will offer comprehensive Trusts & Estates services through offices in Towson and Annapolis

TOWSON, Md. (April 26,2019)  Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell have jointly announced the merger of their firms to create a boutique Trusts & Estates law firm providing comprehensive services in the fields of Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Trust Administration and Charitable Giving. The combined firm will be named Sims & Campbell and have offices in Towson, Md. and Annapolis, Md.  Jane Frankel Sims and Frank Campbell will lead and hold equal ownership stakes in the firm.

Sims & Campbell will have 9 attorneys and 15 legal professionals that handle every facet of estate and wealth transfer planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, estate and gift tax advice, and charitable giving strategies.  The firm will focus solely on Trusts & Estates but will serve a wide range of clients, from young families with modest resources to ultra-high net worth individuals.  This allows clients to remain with the firm as their level of wealth and the complexity of related estate and tax implications change over time. 

“By joining forces, we have expanded our footprint to conveniently serve clients in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia” said Jane Frankel Sims.  We are seeing some of the greatest wealth transfer in our country’s history, and we want to continue to be on the leading edge of helping our clients maintain and enhance their family’s wealth.  In addition, we aim to serve our clients for years to come, and the new firm structure will allow Sims & Campbell to thrive even after Frank and I have retired.”    

“Jane and I have always admired each other’s firms and recognized the need to provide even greater depth and breadth of focused expertise to help families amass and protect their wealth from generation to generation,” said Frank Campbell.  “Now we have even greater capabilities to make a real difference for our clients.” 

The Sims & Campbell Towson office is located at 500 York Road, on the corner of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Towson.  The Annapolis office is currently located at 716 Melvin Avenue, and is moving to 181 Truman Parkway in August, 2019.  For more information, visit www.simscampbell.law.