How Do I Prepare my Parents for Alzheimer’s?

Can your mom just sell her house, despite her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s?

The (Bryan TX) Eagle reports in the recent article “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents” that the concept of “mental capacity” is complicated. There’s considerable confusion about incapacity. The article explains that different legal documents have a different degree of required capacity. The bar for signing a Power of Attorney, a Warranty Deed, a Contract, a Divorce Decree, or a Settlement Agreement is a little lower than for signing a Will. The individual signing legal documents must be capable of understanding and appreciating what he or she is signing, as well as the effect of the document.

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What Do Parents Need to Know About Writing a Will?

Who wants to think about their own mortality? No one. However, it’s a fact of life. Failing to plan for your eventual death by preparing a will—especially as a parent—can result in issues for your loved ones. If you die without a will, it can mean conflict among your survivors, as they attempt to see how best to divide up your assets.

Fatherly’s recent article, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know” says that families can battle over big assets like cars to small assets like a collection of supposedly rare books. They can fight over anything and everything. Therefore, remember to prepare and sign a last will and testament to dispose of your property the way you want.

Dying without a will means your estate will be disposed of according to the intestacy laws. That could leave your loved ones in the lurch. For instance, in some states, your spouse may only get half your estate, with the remainder going to your parents.

Writing a will is essential, and you should not try to do it yourself. Instead, hire an experienced estate planning lawyer. Along with this, keep these items in mind.

Plan for Every Scenario. When doing your estate planning, consider the various scenarios and contingencies that can happen after you’re gone. A well prepared will includes when and where you want your assets to go. Be wise in how to distribute your assets, to whom they will be going and the timing.

Family Dynamics. You must be very specific when drafting up a will, especially if family circumstances are unique, such when there are children from previous marriages who aren’t legally adopted by a spouse. They could be disinherited. Work with an attorney to make sure they receive what you intend with specific details. If you and your partner aren’t legally married, your significant other could find himself or herself disinherited from your assets after you’re dead.

Designating Your Children’s Guardian. If you don’t name a guardian for your children (in cases of either single parenthood or where both parents pass away), the state will determine who gets your children.

Specificity. Your will is a chance to say who gets what. If you want your brother to get the baseball card collection, you should write it down in your will or it’s not enforceable. In some states, you can attach a written list of these personal items to your will.

Health Care. Begin planning your will when you’re healthy so that, in the event of disaster, you will have a financial power of attorney and a health care agent in place. If you become too ill to make decisions yourself, you’ll need to appoint someone to make those decisions for you.

Rules for Minors. Minors can own property, but they’ll have no control over it until they turn 18. If parents leave their home to their minor child, the surviving spouse will have issues if they want to sell it. Likewise, if a child is named the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, IRA, or 401(k), those assets will go into a protected account.

Don’t Do It Yourself. This cannot be emphasized enough. It’s tempting to create a will from a generic form online. But this may be a recipe for disaster. If your will is drafted poorly, your family will suffer the consequences. Generic forms found online are just that—generic. Families are not generic. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with what can be a complex process.

Reference: Fatherly (February 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

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Be Careful Granting Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney abuse has emerged as a serious problem for elderly people who are vulnerable to people they trust more than they should, reports the Sandusky Register in the article “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney” The same is true for a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care document, which should be of great concern for seniors and their family members.

This illustrates the importance of a Power of Attorney document: the person, also known as the “principal,” is giving the authority to act on their behalf in all financial and personal affairs to another person, known as their “agent.” That means the agent is empowered to do anything and everything the person themselves would do, from making withdrawals from a bank account, to selling a home or a car or more mundane acts, such as paying bills and filing taxes.

The problem is that there is nothing to stop someone, once they have Power of Attorney, from taking advantage of the situation. No one is watching out for the person’s best interests, to make sure bank accounts aren’t drained or assets sold. The agent can abuse that financial power to the detriment of the senior and to benefit the agent themselves. It is a crime when it happens. However, this is what often occurs: seniors are so embarrassed that they gave this power to someone they thought they could trust, that they are reluctant to report the crime.

Similarly, an unchecked Health Care Power of Attorney can lead to abuse, if the wrong person is named.

The following is a real example of how this can go wrong. An adult child arranged for their trusting parent to be diagnosed as suffering from dementia by an unscrupulous psychiatrist, when the parent did not have dementia.

The adult child then had the parent admitted into a nursing home, misrepresenting the admission as a temporary stay for rehabilitation. They then kept the parent in the nursing home, using the dementia diagnosis as a reason for her to remain in the nursing home.

The parent had to hire an attorney and prove to the court that she was competent and able to live independently, to be able to return to her home.

Contact Perkins Law Group to discuss your situation and figure out who might become named as Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of attorney on your behalf. We will be able to help you make sure that your estate plan, including your will, is properly prepared and discuss with you the best options for these important decisions.

Reference: Sandusky Register (Feb. 5, 2019) “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney”

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When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

As life changes, you need to periodically review your estate-planning documents and discuss your situation with your estate planning attorney.

WMUR’s recent article, “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan,” says a common question is “When should I review my documents?”

Every few years is the quick answer, but a change in your life may also necessitate a review. Major life events can be related to a marriage, divorce, or death in the family; a substantial change in estate size; a move to another state and/or acquisition of property in another state; the death of an executor, trustee or guardian; the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren; retirement; and a significant change in health, to name just a handful.

When you conduct your review, consider these questions:

  • Does anyone in your family have special needs?
  • Do you have any children from a previous marriage?
  • Is your choice of executor, guardian, or trustee still okay?
  • Do you have a valid living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or a do-not-resuscitate to manage your health care, if you’re not able to do so?
  • Do you need to plan for Medicaid?
  • Are your beneficiary designations up to date on your retirement plans, annuities, payable-on-death bank accounts and life insurance?
  • Do you have charitable intentions and if so, are they mentioned in your documents?
  • Do you own sufficient life insurance?

In addition, review your digital presence and take the necessary efforts to protect your online information, after your death or if you’re no longer able to act.

It may take a little time, effort, and money to review your documents, but doing so helps ensure your intentions are properly executed. Your planning will help to protect your family during a difficult time.

Reference: WMUR (January 24, 2019) “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan”

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Why Is It A Bad Idea to Take a Loan from My 401(k)?

Generally, it’s a really bad idea to take a loan from your 401(k).

Wealth Advisor’s recent article, “Why You Shouldn’t Take A 401(k) Loan,” lists some of the reasons why.

Many people who borrow from their 401(k)s wind up lowering or completely stopping their contributions, while they’re paying back the loans. This can mean the loss of 401(k) matching contributions, when their contribution rates fall below the maximum matched percentage.

Most people thinking about changing jobs don’t know that their outstanding 401(k) loan balance becomes due, when they leave their employer. Whether a job change is voluntary or involuntary, who among us has the financial resources available to pay back a 401(k) loan right away, if we leave our employer? As a result, many individual default.

However, the new tax law gives a little cushion, and you have until your tax return due date the next year. Plan balances that leave 401(k) plans due to loan defaults are rarely ever made up. That makes it less likely that loan defaulters will build sufficient retirement savings.

When you take a loan, it becomes one of your investments in your 401(k) plan account. If you were to take a $10,000 loan for five years at a 6% interest rate, that portion of your 401(k) balance will earn a 6% return for five years.

However, if your loan balance had been invested in one of the other investment options in your plan, you may have earned a lot more. Instead, look into taking a home equity loan first, because interest on those loans is tax-deductible.

Easy availability of a 401(k) loan can frequently make a bad financial situation worse. It can push you into bankruptcy and/or resulting in the loss of your home.

It is clear that 401(k) loans can significantly reduce your chances of achieving retirement preparedness.  It is also one of the worst investments you can make in your 401(k) account.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (February 4, 2019) “Why You Shouldn’t Take A 401(k) Loan”

 

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Is Will Planning the Same as Estate Planning?

Will planning and estate planning are very different processes. Both provide family members with instructions on how assets should be distributed after death, but estate planning goes beyond that, to provide instructions on your health, finances and more while you are living, according to an article from Lexology titled “The Differences Between Will Planning & Estate Planning.”

An estate planning lawyer can help you determine exactly what kind of planning you need, help you create the documents that will support your needs and give you and your family guidance in more complex matters.

Will planning is a relatively simple process that involves creating a document known as a last will and testament. It conveys instructions for after you have died. That may include naming a guardian to rear your children or who should take over your business, who should be in charge of your estate, the executor and who will receive your assets.

Everyone needs a will. It avoids family disputes about property, saves money on legal expenses that occur when there is no will and makes many decisions about your estate much easier. It is a kindness to your loved ones, to have a will.

Estate planning is a little different. It is more detailed and involves tax planning and certain protections for you while you are living. A living will is used to convey your wishes about what kind of medical care you want, if you should become unable to speak on your own behalf. The living will includes end-of-life care, the use of extraordinary measures, like a respirator or feeding tube and more. This is also a kindness to your loved ones, since it spares them from having to guess what your wishes might be.

You’ll also want to have a financial Power of Attorney created to instruct a named person regarding how to handle your money, your business and your investments, if you are unable to function. This person can do anything you could do, from transacting business to moving money into accounts, etc.

A living trust can be used to outline your wishes regarding your property and finances. An estate planning attorney will be able to review your assets and determine whether you need a living trust or if there are other trusts that may be more appropriate for your situation.

Beneficiaries are the individuals named on various accounts. They will receive assets directly from the institution that holds the assets, like insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts and the like. It’s very important to understand that when there is a beneficiary named in a document, that beneficiary will get the assets, regardless of what your will says. These should be updated on a regular basis and if possible, you should always have a primary beneficiary and a secondary beneficiary.

An estate planning attorney will review your situation and talk with you about your goals for your family and your assets after your death. They will create a comprehensive plan with the necessary documents.

Reference: Lexology (January 28, 2019) “The Differences Between Will Planning & Estate Planning”

 

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Does Anyone Really Need a Trust?

The simplest definition of a trust is a three-party fiduciary relationship between the person who created the trust and the fiduciary for the benefit of a third party. The person who created the trust is known as the “Settlor” or “Trustor.” The fiduciary, known as the “Trustee,” is the person or organization with the authority to handle the asset(s). The trustee owes the duty of good faith and trust to the third party, known as the “Beneficiary.”

That is accurately described by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the article titled “Do I need a trust?”

Trusts are created by the preparation of a trust document by an estate planning attorney. The trust can be made to take effect while the Trustor is alive — referred to as inter vivos or after the person’s death — testamentary.

The document can be irrevocable, meaning it can never be changed, or revocable, which means it can change from one type of trust to another, under certain circumstances.

Whether you even need a trust, has nothing to do with your level of assets. People work with estate planning attorneys to create trusts for many different reasons. Here are a few:

  • Consolidating assets during lifetime and for ease of management upon disability or death.
  • Avoiding probate so assets can be transferred with privacy.
  • Protecting a beneficiary with cognitive or physical disabilities.
  • Setting forth the rules of use for a jointly shared asset, like a family vacation home.
  • Tax planning reasons, especially when IRAs valued at more than $250,000 are being transferred to the next generation.
  • Planning for death, disability, divorce or bankruptcy.

There is considerable misinformation about trusts and how they are used. Let’s debunk a few myths:

An irrevocable trust means I can’t ever change anything. Ever. Even with an irrevocable trust, the settlor typically reserves options to control trust assets. It depends upon how the trust is prepared. That may include, depending upon the state, the right to receive distributions of principal and income, the right to distribute money from the trust to third parties at any time and the right to buy and sell real estate owned by the trust, among others. Depending upon where you live, you may be able to “decant” a trust into another trust. Ask your estate planning attorney, if this is an option.

I don’t have enough assets to need a trust. This is not necessarily so. Many of today’s retirees have six figure retirement accounts, while their parents and grandparents didn’t usually have that much saved. They had pensions, which were controlled by their employers. Today’s worker owns more assets with complex tax issues.

You don’t have to be a descendent of an ancient Roman family to need a trust. You must just have enough factors that makes it worthwhile doing. Talk with your estate planning attorney to find out if you need a trust. While you’re at it, make sure your estate plan is up to date. If you don’t have an estate plan, there’s no time like the present to tackle this necessary personal responsibility.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Jan. 28, 2019) “Do I need a trust?”

 

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A Roadmap for Making Your Money Last Through Retirement

Many Americans worry about whether they will outlive their money in retirement. This concern is understandable. Just the thought of going broke after decades of working hard, and not being able to fix the problem, because very few companies will hire a person of advanced age is enough to cause sleepless nights. To help you avoid this situation, here is a roadmap for making your money last through retirement.

Since people ask them about this problem frequently, financial experts have come up with key strategies for making your money outlast you. The four components are:

Add Up the Income You Can Count On

Start with Social Security and add to that all of your guaranteed income. This category can include things like a pension, annuity, or net rent (after all expenses) from reliable rental property. If you do not yet receive Social Security retirement benefits, you can call the Social Security Administration (SSA) or set up an online account for yourself (a My Social Security account) at the SSA’s website, (ssa.gov) to estimate your Social Security retirement benefits.

Your Safe Number to Withdraw from Savings

With interest rates fluctuating and the stock market going all over the place, it can be exasperating to try to calculate how much money you can withdraw safely from your retirement savings, without running out of money down the road. You can stop banging your head against the wall. Financial planners have a formula.

Get the total value of all of your liquid assets – things that are cash or that you can easily convert into cash. These assets include checking and savings accounts, money market accounts and investments like mutual funds, stocks and bonds. You should include your retirement accounts and other savings and investments.

Once you have that total, deduct a ”buffer” amount for several months’ worth of living expenses. That year, you can withdraw four percent of the amount that remains.

Here is how it works: If your total liquid assets minus the cash cushion equal $200,000, you can spend four percent ($8,000) that first year. The second year, you can withdraw a little more if there is inflation, but make sure that you do not confuse the formula on how to adjust for inflation.

Let’s say inflation is two percent. In year two, you can withdraw and spend four percent of your total liquid assets plus two percent for inflation. That does not mean you should spend six percent of your total liquid assets. It means you can spend $8,000 plus $160, which is two percent of $8,000.

Add Your Guaranteed Income and Your Spendable Amount

You can calculate your total income, by combining your Social Security and other guaranteed income with your “safe” four percent to withdraw. If you get $24,000 from Social Security and your four percent to withdraw from savings is $8,000, your total income is $32,000 a year.

Budget Accordingly

Set your budget around this amount. If you can keep your annual spending at or under your total income, you should have enough money to last you for your lifetime.

Be aware that some economic fluctuations might require you to withdraw less money from your savings in some years, and things like a medical crisis can increase your expenses.

Every state has different laws, so be sure to talk with an elder law attorney near you to find out how your state’s regulations might vary from the general law of this article.

References:

AARP. “4 Steps to Make Your Money Last a Lifetime.” (accessed January 25, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/retirement/retirement-savings/info-2018/make-money-last-lifetime.html

 

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Planning for Three Financial Phases of Retirement: Spending Down, Final Spending and Legacy

In pre-retirement earning years, all our attention is focused on accumulating assets. However, the information you need during the accumulation years is different than for the remaining years, according to a useful article from Financial Advisor titled “A Successful And Secure Retirement—Spend-Down Strategies: Part 1.”

The biggest difference in the strategies during the accumulation and withdrawal strategies, is that there’s a greater emphasis on long-term tax planning. Taxes are often the single biggest expense for investors. To make sure that you meet your goals, which includes having the IRS take the smallest piece of your assets, a plan must be created to focus on paying the least amount in taxes, while you are alive and even after you have passed.

The first phase of decumulation, which occurs at different times for different people (and for some people, never occurs) usually comes with a low tax rate. It often starts with retirement, when the paychecks are not coming in and, ideally, you are not yet drawing Social Security or pension benefits. This would allow your Social Security benefits to continue to grow and keep you in a low tax bracket.

The spend-down phase begins, when you start taking withdrawals from tax deferred retirement accounts. This typically starts the year you turn 70½ and start taking RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions). This is the time to be careful, since your tax rate will likely jump up from the amount it was when you were not yet taking RMDs or getting Social Security or pension benefits. The goal is to manage your retirement income, in order to minimize taxes.

The final-spending phase begins all too soon, especially when medical costs and long-term care costs increase dramatically. Given their tax deductibility, as things currently stand, this may provide another period with very low tax rates.

The legacy phase begins upon your death, or on the death of the surviving spouse. The goal is the tax efficient transfer of remaining wealth to heirs and charities and preparing heirs for the assets they will inherit. An estate plan should be in place long before this phase is reached, so that your assets are passed seamlessly to family members and charities.

As a person moves through these stages of post-retirement spending, there are many strategies that can be used to minimize tax liability and maximize the growth of assets. A balance must be found between spending, managing tax burdens and preparing for a legacy.

Speak with your estate planning attorney, who can help you navigate tax planning.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Jan. 21, 2019) “A Successful And Secure Retirement—Spend-Down Strategies: Part 1”

 

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