Why Do Singles Need These Two Estate Planning Tools?

Morningstar’s article, “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider” explains that a living will, or advance medical directive, is a legal document that details your wishes for life-sustaining treatment. It’s a document that you sign when you’re of sound mind and says you want to be removed from life supporting measures, if you become terminally ill and incapacitated.

If you’re on life support with no chance of getting better, you’d choose to have your family avoid the expense and stress of keeping you alive artificially.

Like a living will, a durable power of attorney for healthcare is a legal document that names an agent to make healthcare decisions for you, if you are unable to make them yourself.

A durable power of attorney for healthcare can provide your instructions in circumstances in which you’re not necessarily terminally ill, but you are incapacitated.

When selecting an agent, find a person you trust enough to act on your behalf when you’re unable. Let this person know exactly how you feel about blood transfusions, organ transplants, disclosure of your medical information and other sensitive topics that may arise, if you’re incapacitated.

A power of attorney eliminates any confusion, especially if this person is someone other than your spouse. Your doctors will know exactly who the decision-maker is among your relatives and friends.

These two documents aren’t all that comprise a fully comprehensive estate plan. Singles should regularly make certain that the beneficiary designations on their checking and retirement accounts are up to date.

You should also consider your life insurance needs, especially if you have children and/or a mortgage.

It is also important to understand that a living will doesn’t address the issues of a will. A will ensures that your property is distributed after your death, in accordance with your wishes. Ask for help from an experienced estate planning attorney.

These two documents—a living will and a durable power of attorney—can help ensure that in a healthcare emergency, any medical and financial decisions made on your behalf are in accordance with what you really want. Speak with to an estate-planning attorney in your state to get definitive answers to your questions.

To help ensure you make the right decision, view these articles and speak with an experienced estate-planning attorney.

Reference: Morningstar (April 23, 2019) “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider”

When is it Time to Take Over Parent’s Finances?

Losing the independence that comes with being able to drive, is often followed by the realization that parents can no longer be entrusted with their own finances. This is a difficult issue, because the parents of Baby Boomer kids are the “Greatest Generation.” As a general rule, they were and are extremely private about finances. The steps to take are outlined in this article, “Here’s how to know when it’s time to take control of your parent’s finances,” from Considerable.

The tricky part is figuring out the timing. If it is done too early, you’ll be battling with your parents. Conversely, if it is done too late,  major financial damage may be done.

Keep your eyes open for signs that your parents are not able to maintain their responsibilities. That includes changes in their behavior, misplacing things and not being able to locate them, or making too many trips to the bank for reasons that they can’t or won’t explain. Another clue: purchasing things they never bought before. You may notice paperwork piling up on a desk that used to be tidy and organized.

One woman didn’t realize that her mother was being scammed, until she had sent more than $100,000 to scammers. Elderly financial abuse is pervasive, and the Senate Special Committee on Aging estimates that elderly Americans lose some $3 billion annually to financial scammers.

One elderly woman suffering from dementia, forgot to pay her long-term care insurance premiums and lost the coverage. The company had sent five notices, but she was not able to manage her finances.

Even those who have close relationships with their parents and their daily events can have slip ups. Often, the children don’t step in, until the parent has a health crisis, and then it becomes clear that things have not been right for a while. If one parent is overwhelmed by taking care of their spouse, an otherwise organized person may become prone to making mistakes.

The earlier children can become involved, the better. Children should ideally become involved with their parents, while they are still healthy and able to communicate the necessary information about their financial lives. If the family waits until illness strikes or dementia becomes apparent, there may be significant and irreversible damage done to the parent’s finances, like the woman who lost her long-term health care coverage. There are some instances where the court need to become involved, if the parents are not able or willing to let the children help.

An elder law attorney will be able to help the family as they transition the parents away from being in charge of their own finances. It’s not always an easy process but becomes necessary.

Reference: Considerable (April 18, 2019) “Here’s how to know when it’s time to take control of your parent’s finances”

What Are the Minimum Legal Documents a Farmer or Family Business Owner Must Have?

There are five fundamental estate planning documents that every farmer, family business owner, or every adult, should have prepared and properly executed. They are clearly outlined in the article “Five documents every farmer should have” from Ag Week. However, as reported as recently as January 2019 from AARP, six of 10 seniors don’t have a will. The number of farmers who lack an estate plan is fewer, and probably even less have advance care directives. This is not good for them or their families.

Farm and ranch families often find themselves facing complicated issues about how the land should be divided among the next generation, and whether the next generation will continue to maintain the ranch or farm. This is something that estate planning addresses.

Many people think of the will as the estate plan. However, it is only part of the plan. The will says who will inherit property, including assets and debts, and who will be responsible for carrying out your directions. That person is the executor, who acts as your agent when you have died.

While there are online wills available, it is recommended that farm and ranch families work with an estate planning attorney. They are encouraged to meet with a few, until they find one who they are comfortable with and they believe has the experience that suits the family’s situation. The attorney will help with how property is titled and how to handle the tax implications. These are both important parts of an estate plan.

Every adult needs an advance health care directive, the legal document that specifies the medical procedures that they want to maintain life, if there is a health crisis. An advance directive usually involves a living will, and names a person as health care power of attorney to make health care decisions, when you are unable to do so for yourself.

The living will is used to specify the types of medical procedures you do or do not wish to have performed to keep you alive. Medical professionals or first responders often do not have access to this document and must follow their legal and ethical requirement to maintain life, in any way possible. Make sure this document is readily available and that other family members know where it is located.

Provide a copy of the living will and durable power of attorney to your doctors and the institutions that usually provide your care. The power of attorney should specify who has primary responsibility to make these decisions and at least one alternate.

Talk with your physicians about your feelings and wishes for these documents. They may also benefit from having the person you have named as your power of attorney with you at the time of the conversation. That way everyone is clear about what your wishes are.

A power of attorney is given to an individual, your agent, who can make financial decisions on your behalf, if you are incapacitated. They can write checks, make deposits and have access to your safe deposit box. There will be forms to fill out, so don’t delay having them created and properly executed.

While it is not legally enforceable, write a letter of intention to accompany your will. Give a copy of your letter to your executor, and possibly to a trusted family member. This way, you can make sure they know:

  • Where important documents, including life insurance policies, savings accounts, loans, leases, titles to property and other legal documents are located.
  • Instructions for the care of minor children. Your will should name a guardian, but any information you can share about your children will be helpful.
  • Instructions of what you want to happen to the family land.

The more information you can prepare and provide for your survivors, the more likely your wishes will be carried out. It can also be psychologically soothing to know that you have communicated and legally documented your wishes for those who live after you.

Looking to pass on the family farm? Click here to learn more.

Reference: Ag Week (April 5, 2019) “Five documents every farmer should have”

How Do I Do Estate Planning for My Coin Collection?

Forbes’ recent article, “Astute Estate Planning For Art, Antiques And Valuable Collectibles,” says that personal property items, like a coin collection or artwork, can pose an added degree of estate planning complexity, for several reasons.

Tracking. Personal property items are easily “lost” or misplaced. Use inventory software or keep copious records. You should also retain receipts, appraisals and other imprimaturs and bona fides of provenance.

Assignment and Transfer. Since personal property can “walk off,” it’s smart to make certain that all applicable parties, such as heirs, are informed of inventory lists or other tracking methods, with clear instructions on who gets what. You can even add in your will an addendum “Exhibits A-Z,” to make sure that nothing gets lost. Photographs, serial numbers, and other identifying data can be added for more fungible items, like firearms.

Security and Insurance. Use precautions like safes, safety deposit boxes and alarm systems because transportable valuables present greater risks of theft and of fire/disaster. There can be different insurance rules based on the item. You may need separate deductibles, endorsements, riders and proofs of location and ownership to have proper insurance coverage.

Documentation. Particularly for art and important antiques, it is vital to have documentation that supports authenticity and records provenance. This can include certificates of authenticity, bills of sale, condition reports, artists’ notes and photographs, along with appraisals and insurance reports. A gap in documentation can result in challenges in establishing provenance and authenticity.

Valuation. Most personal property is in a very illiquid market, and the price is very much whatever the market will bear. Specialized knowledge may be needed to arrive at a fair price.

Estate Tax Issues. Retain accurate inventories to make certain that all value is properly accounted for, if an estate tax return is due. It’s not uncommon for these items to be “forgotten” at tax time since, unlike securities, bank accounts and real estate, the IRS can’t easily track estate ownership of the assets, whether or not they’re taken by members of the family.

Wanna pass on the family business? Check this out.

Reference: Forbes (April 8, 2019) “Astute Estate Planning For Art, Antiques And Valuable Collectibles”

What If My Beneficiary Isn’t Ready to Handle an Inheritance?

A recent Kiplinger article asks: “Is Your Beneficiary Ready to Receive Money?” In fact, not everyone will be mentally or emotionally prepared for the money you wish to leave them. Here are some things to consider:

The Beneficiary’s Age. Children under 18 years old cannot sign legal contracts. Without some planning, the court will take custody of the funds on the child’s behalf. This could occur via custody accounts, protective orders or conservatorships. If this happens, there’s little control over how the money will be used. The conservatorship will usually end and the funds be paid to the child, when they become an adult. Giving significant financial resources to a young adult who’s not ready for the responsibility, often ends in disaster. Work with an estate planning attorney to find a solution to avoid this result.

The Beneficiary’s Lifestyle. There are many other circumstances for which you need to consider and plan. These include the following:

  • A beneficiary with a substance abuse or gambling problem;
  • A beneficiary and her inheritance winds up in an abusive relationship;
  • A beneficiary is sued;
  • A beneficiary is going through a divorce;
  • A beneficiary has a disability; and
  • A beneficiary who’s unable to manage assets.

All of these issues can be addressed, with the aid of an estate planning attorney. A testamentary trust can be created to make certain that minors (and adults who just may not be ready) don’t get money too soon, while also making sure they have funds available to help with school, health care and life expenses.

Who Will Manage the Trust? Every trust must have a trustee. Find a person who is willing to do the work. You can also engage a professional trust company for larger trusts. The trustee will distribute funds, only in the ways you’ve instructed. Conditions can include getting an education, or using the money for a home or for substance abuse rehab.

Estate Plan Review. Review your estate plan after major life events or every few years. Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney to make the process easier and to be certain that your money goes to the right people at the right time.

Worried about what happens to your debts after you die? Click here.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 1, 2019) “Is Your Beneficiary Ready to Receive Money?”

What Are Some Good Tips for Business Succession Planning in The Internet Age?

When considering how to make sure your business continues to thrive, it’s important to remember that if you do nothing, your business already has a default plan in place: if no additional planning is done, your business is an asset of your estate and will be subject to probate.

Forbes’ article, “Business Succession Planning In The Internet Age,” says that there are four issues with this default plan. First, it can take years for a court to probate your estate. In that time, your business can dry up, when probate is finalized. Next, if you do not have an estate plan, your heirs may fight over who will inherit the business. Whoever inherits the business under the state’s intestate succession laws may also not be the best person to make sure your business will continue to grow and be successful. Finally, if you have co-owners, they might not like your heirs and could get into disputes with the new owners that harm the business.

There are two legal tools to look at when reviewing your options: a buy-sell agreement and good estate planning.

A Buy-Sell Agreement. This is a contract between the co-owners of a company that addresses a variety of business-changing events, such as when an owner dies. Rather than the deceased owner’s equity being a part of the assets distributed during probate, the buy-sell agreement can include an agreed-upon amount that will be paid to the estate, in exchange for the business repurchasing the equity. The purchase is often financed with a life insurance policy on each owner of the business.

Estate Planning. Instead of allowing your business to be subject to probate, a business owner can work with an estate planning attorney to make the business an asset of the owner’s trust.

With either option, be sure you note the important digital assets for the continued operation of your business. Your business’s digital assets may include customer lists, intellectual property and creative products. It is important to remember these tips on considering your digital assets:

  1. Understand the policies that impact your tools. Review your software provider’s policies on what happens if your company needs to name a new point of contact, pay bills differently, or be transferred to a different company, in case the unexpected happens.
  2. Security and redundancy. A company’s success requires owners and employees to keep proprietary information and client information secure. However, the concern for safety must be balanced with redundancy that considers which people will have access to digital assets and an understanding of what to do with them, if the owner or main management team is unable to tend to business as usual.
  3. Add digital assets in legal documents. Include an inventory of digital assets in your buy-sell agreement or estate plan. Be specific about who should get access to digital assets.

Creating a detailed plan as to who should have access to your business’s digital assets in case of your incapacitation or death, is an important part of succession planning.

Want to keep the family farm going? Here’s an article on succession planning for the family farm.

Reference: Forbes (April 8, 2019) “Business Succession Planning In The Internet Age”

How to Decide Who Your Healthcare Proxy Should Be

It’s especially important to name a healthcare proxy, because the chances of having a crisis escalates dramatically as we age. That’s why so many people put off naming a healthcare proxy, says Forbes in the article “How to Select A Healthcare Proxy,” often only addressing this, when they are completing other documents for their overall estate plan.

What usually happens is that people get so stressed out about naming a healthcare proxy that they put it off or make a bad selection. Making it even worse, is neglecting to tell the person they have chosen for this important responsibility.

It’s not guaranteed that the person you chose as your healthcare proxy will ever be called on to serve. However, if they are, you’ll want to make sure they meet certain guidelines. For one thing, they’ll need to be at least 18 years old. They cannot be your direct health care provider or any of the direct health care provider’s employees, unless that person is also your spouse. They have to be willing to speak up and adhere to your own wishes, even if those wishes are not the same as their own. You’ll want to have a very candid conversation with the person you think you want to name as your healthcare proxy.

You might want to go through this exercise to make sure they are really willing to carry out your wishes. Create a worksheet that describes in detail some of the situations they may face. There are a few sources for this kind of worksheet, including one from a group called Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit centered on helping people get what they want at the end of their lives.

If you are close with your family, it may seem obvious to select your spouse, first-born child, or a sibling for this task. However, be realistic: when push comes to shove, will they be able to stand up for your wishes? Will they be able to deal with the fallout from family members, who may not agree with what you want at the end of your life? They’ll need to be up to the challenge.

Age is a real factor here. You want your proxy to be available in both the immediate and distant future. If you have a sibling who is only two years younger than you, she’ll be 84 when you are 86. That may not be the time for her to make hard decisions, or she may not be available—or alive. Select a few backups, and make sure the primary, secondary and even tertiary are listed on your advance directive.

Geography also matters. The person may be called upon in a crisis—if you are on the West Coast and they are in the Midwest, will they be able to get to your bedside in time? Many hospitals and skilled nursing facilities require a live human being to be physically present, if critical care decisions need to be made. Someone who lives within a 50-mile radius of you, might be a better choice.

Once you’ve made the decision, you’re almost done. Have a conversation with the person, whether they are the primary or a backup. You should also have a conversation with your estate planning attorney, to make sure that your healthcare directive and any related documents are all set for your future.

Are you moving to a care community? You may want to read this first.

Reference: Forbes (April 10, 2019) “How to Select A Healthcare Proxy”

How Can a Power of Attorney Mistake Leave You Penniless?

Just before Dorothy Jorgensen’s husband died of cancer, he altered his power of attorney and designated one of his relatives. That relative withdrew everything but a few bucks, reports WPRI.com in the article “Son questions power of attorney after mother’s bank account is drained.”

“When I went to pick up a prescription for my mother, there was insufficient funds to pick up a prescription,” Dorothy’s son, Gene Weston, said. “I can’t believe that someone would do that to an elderly woman.”

The couple had been married for almost twenty years. Both had added money to the account.

“My mother is still alive, and my mother needs to continue living,” Weston said.

The son called the police, because he claims there’s no way the power of attorney document for his stepfather was legitimate.

“He was on morphine at the time,” Gene Weston said.

According to a local police report, detectives interviewed several people and found Jorgensen’s husband was “only taking a minimal dose of meds.”

Police determined that Mr. Jorgensen “acted with his own free will” and ended their criminal investigation.

However, these types of cases involving powers of attorney often wind up in civil court. When people make a change to a power of attorney right before their death, it can raise concerns, especially when the person is elderly and on medication.

One thing that many people don’t know, is that they can limit the power of attorney document to protect a surviving spouse or family members.

It’s important to carefully choose an agent and make certain that the power of attorney is properly notarized. You should select a person whom you trust, and whom you know will do the right thing for you, in case you can’t make your own decisions.

The relative who withdrew the money from Jorgensen’s bank account was not willing to speak with a reporter. However, she said that she did nothing wrong. While this may be legally correct, clearly the amount of money taken by the relative that left the widow without any money, was not the right thing to do.

Reference: WPRI 12 (April 15, 2019) “Son questions power of attorney after mother’s bank account is drained”

How Loneliness Can Affect Your Health

Many older Americans spend their days alone, isolated from companionship and without social interaction. While we all know that loneliness is not a happy state, we did not have much evidence of the significant impact of isolation. A recent study by the University of Michigan reveals that chronic loneliness can shorten your life as much as smoking. Here are some things you need to know about how loneliness can affect your health.

The Study Respondents

The study asked Americans nationwide about their levels of companionship and social isolation, and how they feel about those factors. The survey also inquired about each person’s health status and health behaviors, such as diet, exercise, sleep habits and tobacco use. The participants were between the ages of 50 and 80.

How Chronic Loneliness Affects the Health of Older Americans

According to the survey, being lonely on a regular basis can harm seniors by:

  • Decreasing life expectancy,
  • Deteriorating memory,
  • Weakening physical well-being, and
  • Increasing the incidence of mental health issues.

Survey respondents who reported that their mental health was fair or poor, were more than eight times more likely to feel isolated than other participants. The rate of fair or poor health was more than twice as high among people who felt socially isolated than other people in the study.

The Chicken or the Egg?

The tricky bit is that some health problems can cause a person to feel more isolated, and isolation can lead to health problems. A person with hearing loss might feel left out at a social gathering, because he cannot hear well enough to participate in the conversations and activities. Out of frustration, he might stop attending social functions. The difficulty in getting around because of the lack of sidewalks, curb cuts, and wheelchair access might also cause a person with mobility issues to have fewer opportunities for interactions.

Healthy habits tend to go hand-in-hand with social activity. For example, older Americans who said that they have a nutritious diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep, were less likely to report feeling lonely or isolated. On the other hand, those who smoke or use tobacco were more likely to say that they felt a lack of companionship and that they felt isolated, than non-smokers and people who do not use tobacco.

The Good News

Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents said they have frequent social contact with people who do not live with them, including neighbors, friends and relatives. Almost a third interact socially every day.

With today’s technology, a person who has difficulty leaving the house, can video chat with loved ones who are hundreds of miles away or enjoy an event through the use of VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) devices. While electronic participation is not the same as being there, this level of interaction is better than not being connected at all. Many people were critical of telephones when they were a new invention, because the devices were not the same as a face-to-face conversation.

Best Odds

The participants with the lowest rates of loneliness and isolation were:

  • Male,
  • Still working,
  • Had an annual household income of more than $60,000,
  • Did not have children in the home, and
  • Did have at least one other adult in the home.

References:

University of Michigan. “Loneliness and Health.” (accessed April 10, 2019) https://www.healthyagingpoll.org/report/loneliness-and-health

How Do I Make a Seamless Transition of a Family Business?

The North Bay Business Journal’s article, “How to plan for a smooth transition of your family business,” explains that in wine families, usually one or two children go to work in the business. There’s often some kind of preferential treatment for them with economics or voting and control. A business owner needs to plan carefully in transferring her business to the next generation.

A crucial step in handling family dynamics is calling a meeting with everyone to discuss what’s going on with their business. A family meeting is an opportunity to discuss decisions with family members with reduced conflict and confusion.

To have a successful business succession plan, start with a business plan for the business. Next move to both financial planning and estate planning, especially estate planning for the current owner. You should then do tax planning around all of that.

Addressing the tax exposure is a challenge faced by those transferring assets. There are some tax issues with estate planning and asset transfer, unless it’s done during life. Transferring a business, or other assets when the owner is still alive, can be beneficial in the long run. Lifetime gifts can be a way to reduce estate taxes, because making a gift today before there’s been substantial appreciation is a way to leverage your gift and estate tax exemption.

A parent who transfers assets while still alive, would have to be willing to say goodbye to the income from an asset.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean giving up control of the business. The process of transferring control of a business can benefit from a gradual approach. If you want to transfer the business to one or more of your children, but you want them to succeed on their own, you could bring them into the business as a manager and give them a little bit of ownership.

As a business owner selling out of a business, you need an experienced attorney to help you understand the impact of the amount of significant wealth that you may have, after the sale of the business. He or she will create a plan that will respect your values, goals and commitments, while making sure you have flexibility.

Inheritance conflicts don’t stop at who inherits the family business, here’s how to be smart about inheritance.

Reference: North Bay Business Journal (April 9, 2019) “How to plan for a smooth transition of your family business”