Anyone who has any assets they want distributed should have an estate plan, regardless of the size of their estate. Having a will and an estate plan created by an experienced attorney is the easiest place to start, says the Observer-Reporter in the article “Set up an estate plan so your assets go where you want.” Without a will, the state will decide what happens to your assets, and it may not be what you wanted.
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”
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.
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.
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”
1) Myth: My spouse can make all of my healthcare and financial decisions because he/she is my spouse.
2) Myth: I’ve told my family how I want my affairs handled after I die. They’ll divide everything the way I want it divided.
3) Myth: I signed a will before, so I don’t need to do it again.
4) Myth: I am not wealthy enough to need an estate plan.
The unknown events of life include financial perils. They don’t disappear just because you try to ignore them. There are more threats to your financial future and personal health than an estate tax, says Newsmax Finance in its article “Your Estate is at Risk.” There is also legal liability, which is a commonplace event in our increasingly litigious society.
For many people, the first experience with litigation is a divorce. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s a difficult situation. In a bad situation, it’s a nightmare for all concerned. What would happen if you became disabled? It’s more likely that someone will become disabled during the course of their life than that they will die prematurely.
Do you have a health care power of attorney, so someone you trust is empowered to make decisions on your behalf if you became disabled? What about a durable power of attorney so a person you trust, who also has some financial savvy, can take over for you if you can’t do things, like pay bills or manage your business?
If you don’t have these documents in place, a court-appointed person will be assigned as your guardian. That is not something you want to happen.
If you’ve created a private business, you also need to plan for succession. Too many business owners let their businesses die along with them, leaving families, employees and clients stranded. Transitioning a business for succession or to be managed in your absence takes planning.
All of these issues can be dealt with in an estate plan, which you should have created for you by an estate planning attorney. The attorney should be someone you trust, who has experience helping people with the same challenges as your situation, whether that’s a blended family or a privately held family business.
Estate planners know how to use certain methods to help individuals and families make the most of their assets, limit their tax liabilities and plan for the future. There are many different tools available, from different types of trusts to the basics, like a will, power of attorney, and health care power of attorney, to make sure you and your family have the correct protection in place.
Going through the estate planning process is a useful experience, since it gives you and your spouse a chance to review your life’s accomplishments from a long-term perspective, prepare for events like retirement or funding a child or grandchild’s college education and taking care of this important element of adulthood.
Reference: Newsmax Finance (Jan. 14, 2019) “Your Estate is at Risk”
People who work for companies have access to perks like 401(k) plans, with automatic deductions that let them put retirement savings on autopilot. However, when you work for yourself, it’s all up to you, says Zing! in the aptly-titled article “Saving for Retirement When You’re Self-Employed? It Takes Planning and Commitment.” If you have the discipline and self-motivation to run a business, you should be able to apply those skills to your retirement.
Here are some tips for self-employed people who are concerned with building their retirement savings.
Embrace a budget. One of the biggest challenges is income that fluctuates. It’s hard to save when one month has you earning $10,000 and $3,000 the next month. You’ll need to create a budget and stick with it, including budgeting a percentage of your income for retirement. While you’re creating a budget, set goals for short- and long-term objectives to keep your budgeting focused.
A budget should include necessary expenses for each month, including mortgage or rent, car loans and credit card payments. Include groceries, transportation, and health care costs. Some self-employed people pay for some items like transportation or entertainment out of their business accounts. If you do that, just work with one budget, so you can measure spending. There is no need to split things out for yourself. You should then look at discretionary items like vacations, entertainment, gym memberships, clothing and things that are not basic necessities.
Now see what’s left at the end of the month. If there’s no regular stream of money going into retirement savings because there’s not enough after spending, you may need to make some changes.
Create an item in your expense budget for retirement savings. Make it automatic. Set a fixed amount of your income, by dollar amount or percentage of monthly income, and put it away every month for your retirement. This takes discipline at first and then becomes a habit. Once you see how the account grows, you’ll be more inclined to continue.
Talk with your accountant about the best savings vehicle for you. Some self-employed individuals use a “solo” 401(k) account, known as a SEP or Self-Employed 401(k). Designed for employers who have no employees other than themselves (or their spouses), it offers the same benefits as traditional 401(k)s. In 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 when contributing as an employee, or up to $24,500 if you are 50 and older. As an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of your compensation – not counting catch-up contributions for those 50 and older, you can go as high as $55,000 in 2019.
Another factor if you are self-employed is your estate plan. Entrepreneurs are often so busy working on their business, that they forget about the legal side of their personal lives. You need a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney and, depending on your business and life situation, a succession plan.
Reference: Zing! (Jan. 7, 2019) “Saving for Retirement When You’re Self-Employed? It Takes Planning and Commitment”
Many people believe they’re too young to begin thinking about estate planning. Others say they don’t have significant enough assets to make the process of planning worthwhile.
However, the truth is that everyone needs estate planning. If you have any assets, and you intend to give those assets to a loved one, you need to have a plan.
Forbes’s article, “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist,” examines some important topics in estate planning.
The first of topic is a durable power of attorney for property, finances and health care. This document allows you to designate a trusted individual to make decisions and take action on your behalf with matters relating to each of the three areas above.
In addition to the importance of having all powers of attorney readily available, in case you become incapable of making decisions, beneficiary designations should also be looked at frequently to update any changes to family situations, like a birth or adoption, death, marriage or divorce.
Another topic to address is a living trust. A trust will give direction regarding where and how the assets are dispersed when you die. A great reason to use a living trust is that the assets in a trust do not pass through probate court, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.
Another area is digital assets. It’s critical for your heirs to have access to digital files, passwords and documents. This can be easy to overlook. Create a list of your digital assets, including social media accounts, online banking accounts and home utilities you manage online. Include all email and communications accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you manage. This list should be clear and updated for your heirs to access.
If we fail to plan for these somewhat uncomfortable topics, the outcome will be stressful and expensive for our heirs.
Reference: Forbes (January 4, 2019) “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist”
Research shows that about 60% of U.S. adults don’t have a will.
However, not all of your possessions pass through a will. 401(k)s, life insurance proceeds, pensions, and annuities pass by beneficiary designation.
The (Washington, PA) Observer-Reporter’s recent article, “Improper estate planning can lead to familial conflict” explains that some of your possessions will pass through probate. If you own property in several states, the process could become more difficult for your loved ones. A way to simplify the process for them, is by having an updated will.
For instance, even if your will states that all of your possessions are to be split equally between your two children, this may not be what actually occurs. If your life insurance lists only Bob as the beneficiary, he’ll walk off with 100% of the death benefit. Your younger son Doug will receive only half of the assets that don’t have a beneficiary designation. Assets that pass by designation are not controlled by the will. That is why Bob gets all the money from the insurance. As you can see, it’s vital that you review your accounts’ beneficiary designations regularly, to make certain they’re up to date. Check on them every few years or when there’s a family divorce, birth, or death. Once you’re gone, they can’t be changed.
In addition, your estate plan should include two powers of attorney (POA). The first POA is to make health decisions. The second POA is to make financial decisions, if you don’t have the capacity to do so. Your POA agent has your authority to make decisions, only when you do not have capacity and she can only exercise it for your own benefit. POAs end at the drafter’s death.
It’s common today for families to have blended elements. Many people were married before and may have had children. Here’s an example of a famous father who made his third wife executor of his estate, giving her control of his business. In this case, his equally famous son was the principal player in the father’s business. The son didn’t understand the implications of his father’s estate plan. When the father died, there was a long and expensive legal battle between the son and the third wife.
Who was it? It was Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Work with an experienced attorney and don’t let this happen to your family.
Reference: The (Washington, PA) Observer-Reporter (December 7, 2018) “Improper estate planning can lead to familial conflict”