Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

What Happens If You Become Incapacitated?

If you became incapacitated and advance planning had been done, your family will have the legal documents you need. Just as importantly, they will know what your wishes are for incapacity and end-of-life care. If there was no planning, your loved ones will have to start with a lengthy application to the court to have someone named a guardian. They are a person who has legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Having a plan in place beforehand is always better, explains the article “If I become incapacitated, who makes healthcare decisions?” from Waterdown Daily Times.

Another reason to plan ahead: the court does not require the guardian to be a family member. Anyone can request a guardian to be appointed for another incapacitated individual, whether incapacity is a result of illness or injury. If no planning has been done, a guardianship must be established.

This is not an easy or inexpensive process. A petition must be filed, and the person in question must be legally declared incapacitated. In some cases, these filings are done secretly, and a guardianship maybe established without the person or their family even knowing it has occurred.

There are also many cases where one family member believes they are better suited for the task, and the family becomes embroiled in controversy about who should serve as the guardian.

The entire problem can be resolved by working with an experienced estate planning attorney long before incapacity becomes an issue. A comprehensive estate plan will include a plan for distribution of assets (Last Will and Testament), Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will.

These last two documents work together to describe your wishes for end-of-life care, medical treatment and any other medical issues you would want conveyed to healthcare providers.

Unfortunately, the pandemic revealed just how important it is to have these matters taken care of. If you did create these documents in the last few years, it would be wise to review them, since the people in key roles may have changed. While the idea of being on a respirator may have at one time been a clear and firm no, you may feel otherwise now.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney is an advance directive used to name a person, who becomes your “agent,” to make healthcare decisions. If there is no Healthcare Power of Attorney, physicians will ask a family member to make a decision. If no family can be reached in a timely manner, the court may be asked to appoint a legal guardian to be the decision-maker. In an urgent situation, the physician will have to make the decision, and it may not be the decision you wanted.

The Living Will explains your wishes for end-of-life care. For instance, if you become seriously ill and don’t want a feeding tube or artificial heart machine, you can say so in this document. You can even state who you do and do not wish to visit you when you are sick.

The best advice is to have a complete estate plan, including these vital documents, created by an experienced estate planning attorney. If you have an estate plan and have not reviewed it in the past three to five years, a review would be best for you and your loved ones.

Reference: Watertown Daily Times (April 14, 2022) “If I become incapacitated, who makes healthcare decisions?”

Can I Help Parents Remember Online Passwords?

Hacked usernames and passwords are the most common causes of malicious online identity attacks, accounting for 61% of breaches.

Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “Why your loved one needs a password manager” explains that keeping your loved one’s passwords safe is actually nearly as important as the security and complexity of the passwords themselves. This is why a password manager can help. It’s software that allows the user to generate, store and manage credentials in one central and secure location online.

A password manager can help make your loved one’s day-to-day interactions with technology easier and more secure for several reasons. For instance, older adults are vulnerable to scammers, more likely to forget their passwords or store them in unsafe locations. Online accounts should be included in estate planning, but many family members find themselves “locked out” of important accounts after their loved one passes, with no access to the credentials—especially if the death is unexpected.

A password manager puts all your loved one’s online account credentials and documents into one secure place, then they have just one password to remember. Many password managers let you share credentials with other people, so nothing’s ever lost forever. This way they can make certain that the right people will have the details they need to access the accounts necessary to settle the estate.

With many password managers, you can not only store, change and access passwords in these apps but also write notes about information like:

  • Financial account details
  • The location of valuables and important documents
  • Important contact info
  • Important logins or security codes that aren’t website logins; and
  • Instructions in case of death.

Research has shown that older adults who use password managers were satisfied with their experiences overall and even felt confident using multiple features, like the password generator and auto-fill.

After a senior gets over the hurdle of setting up and learning how to use the software, they love it and are quite adept at using it.

This is the reason for you as the caregiver to help your loved one get a password manager set up and help them get acquainted with using it properly.

Reference: Seniors Matter (March 6, 2022) “Why your loved one needs a password manager”

Can You Inherit a House with a Mortgage?

Inheriting a home with a mortgage adds another layer of complexity to settling the estate, as explained in a recent article from Investopedia titled “Inheriting a House With a Mortgage.” The lender needs to be notified right away of the owner’s passing and the estate must continue to make regular payments on the existing mortgage. Depending on how the estate was set up, it may be a struggle to make monthly payments, especially if the estate must first go through probate.

Probate is the process where the court reviews the will to ensure that it is valid and establish the executor as the person empowered to manage the estate. The executor will need to provide the mortgage holder with a copy of the death certificate and a document affirming their role as executor to be able to speak with the lending company on behalf of the estate.

If multiple people have inherited a portion of the house, some tough decisions will need to be made. The simplest solution is often to sell the home, pay off the mortgage and split the proceeds evenly.

If some of the heirs wish to keep the home as a residence or a rental property, those who wish to keep the home need to buy out the interest of those who don’t want the house. When the house has a mortgage, the math can get complicated. An estate planning attorney will be able to map out a way forward to keep the sale of the shares from getting tangled up in the emotions of grieving family members.

If one heir has invested time and resources into the property and others have not, it gets even more complex. Family members may take the position that the person who invested so much in the property was also living there rent free, and things can get ugly. The involvement of an estate planning attorney can keep the transfer focused as a business transaction.

What if the house has a reverse mortgage? In this case, the reverse mortgage company needs to be notified. You’ll need to find out the existing balance due on the reverse mortgage. If the estate does not have the funds to pay the balance, there is the option of refinancing the property to pay off the balance due, if the wish is to keep the house. If there’s not enough equity or the heirs can’t refinance, they typically sell the house to pay off the reverse mortgage.

Can heirs take over the existing loan? Your estate planning attorney will be able to advise the family of their rights, which are different than rights of homeowners. Lenders in some circumstances may allow heirs to be added to the existing mortgage without going through a full loan application and verifying credit history, income, etc. However, if you chose to refinance or take out a home equity loan, you’ll have to go through the usual process.

Inheriting a house with a mortgage or a reverse mortgage can be a stressful process during an already difficult time. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to guide the family through their options and help with the rest of the estate.

Reference: Investopedia (April 12, 2022) “Inheriting a House With a Mortgage”

Half of Americans Making More than $100K Don’t Have a Will

About 70% of participants in a new survey from Wealth, an estate planning platform, said that they want to pass wealth down to their loved ones. However, only about half (53%) have an estate plan. And only about a third (32%) say they have a will in place.

Think Advisor’s recent article entitled “Nearly Half of Families Earning $100K or More Lack an Estate Plan: Survey” reports that the survey found that people of color, in particular, face accessibility barriers. This group is 14% less likely to have an estate plan in place than their counterparts in the sample.

Wealth’s findings were based on a survey conducted in the U.S. by WALR in partnership with Manifest in the last two weeks of last year among 10,000 employed respondents ages 30 to 55 with a household income of more than $100,000.

The survey results showed that the main factor keeping people from securing their financial legacy is the notion that estate planning should be done in the future rather than now — possibly because 45% of respondents said they avoid thinking about death.

Another misperception is that estate planning is only for the very wealthy: 42% of survey participants said they don’t own anything valuable and as a reason they do not have a plan, and 30% said they don’t have enough money.

Wealth said it behooves employers to make employees aware of estate planning in their benefits packages.

Just 13% of the sample said they receive estate planning as an employee benefit.

About 72% of the respondents who don’t have a plan said they’d be more likely to create a will if the services were offered by their employer.

“Estate planning should not only be available to high-net-worth households,” Rafael Loureiro, Wealth’s co-founder and chief executive, said in a statement. “Employees of all income levels and walks of life can benefit from financial clarity and emotional peace of mind that comes with having an estate plan.”

The survey found that 40% haven’t gotten around to setting up an estate plan, although 70% say they eventually will do it and about 45% say that they actively avoid thinking about death (especially men and 51% of millennials). Almost half (45%) also think it’s inappropriate to talk about money with friends, missing out on valuable financial advice.

Reference: Think Advisor (March 29, 2022) “Nearly Half of Families Earning $100K or More Lack an Estate Plan: Survey”

What Assets are Not Considered Part of an Estate?

In many families, more assets pass outside the Last Will than through the Last Will. Think about non-probate assets: life insurance proceeds, investment accounts, jointly titled real estate assets, assuming they were titled as joint tenants with right of survivorship, and the like. These often add up to considerable sums, often more than the probate estate.

This is why a recent article from The Mercury titled “Planning Ahead: Pay attention to your non-probate assets” strongly urges readers to pay close attention to accounts transferred by beneficiary.

Most retirement accounts like IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s and others pass by beneficiary designation and not through the Last Will. Banks and investment accounts designated as Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) also do not pass through probate, but to the other person named on the account. Any property owned by a trust does not go through probate, one of the reasons it is placed in the trust.

Why is it important to know whether assets pass through probate or by beneficiary designation? Here’s an example. A man was promised half of this father’s estate. His dad had remarried, and the son didn’t know what estate plans had been made, if any, with the new spouse. When the father passed, the man received a single check for several thousand dollars. He knew his father’s estate was worth considerably more.

What is most likely to have happened is simple. The father probably retitled the house with his new spouse as tenants by the entireties–making it a non-probate asset. He probably retitled bank accounts with his new spouse. And if the father had a new Last Will created, he likely gave 50% to the son and 50% to the new spouse. The father’s car may have been the only asset not jointly owned with his new spouse.

A parent can also accidentally disinherit an heir, if all of their non-probate assets are in one child’s name and no provision for the non-probate assets has been made for any other children. An estate planning attorney can work with the parents to find a way to make inheritances equal, if the intention is for all of the children to receive an equal share. One way to accomplish this would be to give the other children a larger share of probated assets.

Any division of inheritance should bear in mind the tax liability of assets. Non-probate does not always mean non-taxed. Depending upon the state of residence for the decedent and the heirs, there may be estate or inheritance tax on the assets.

Placing assets in an irrevocable trust is a commonly used estate planning method to ensure inheritances are received by the intended parties. The trust allows you to give very specific instructions about who gets what. Assets in the trust are outside of the probate estate, since the trust is not owned by the grantor.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to review probate and non-probate assets to determine the best way to achieve your wishes for your distribution of assets.

Reference: The Mercury (April 12, 2022) “Planning Ahead: Pay attention to your non-probate assets”

My Children Really Don’t Want My Stuff?

Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “Your Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want” gives us a list of these items and what to do with them.

Books. Unless your grown children are professors, they don’t want your books. If you think the book is rare, call a book antiquarian.

Paper Ephemera. Snapshots, old greeting cards and postcards are called paper ephemera. Did you know that? Me neither. Old photos are not worth anything, unless the subject is a celebrity or linked with an important historical event. Old greeting cards are not valuable, unless handmade by a famous artist or sent by a celebrity. Postcards are valued mainly for the stamps. Take all your family snapshots and have them made into digital files. The other option is to sell those old snapshots to greeting card publishers who use them on funny cards or give family photos to image archive businesses, like Getty. If the archive is a not-for-profit, take the donation write-off.

Steamer Trunks, Sewing Machines and Film Projectors. Thrift stores are full of these items. Therefore, unless your family member was a professional and the item is top-notch, yours can go there as well.

Porcelain Figurine Collections and Bradford Exchange Pieces. Your collections of frogs, shoes, flowers, and trolls, as well your Hummel’s, and Precious Moments won’t be wanted by the children. See if you can find a retirement home that does a gift exchange at Christmas and donate the figurines. If you want to hold on to a memory of your mom’s collection, have a professional photographer take a photo for your wall. Collector’s plates won’t sell. Donate these as well.

Silver-Plated Stuff. Your children won’t polish silverplate, so if you give them platters, serving bowls, tea services and candelabra, you won’t enhance your standing. The exception may be silver-plated items from Tiffany or Cartier but give these away to any place or person who will take it.

Heavy, Dark, Antique Furniture. There’s still a market for this sort of furniture at secondhand shops. However, you’ll get less than a quarter of purchase price, if you sell on consignment. Unless your furniture is mid-century modern, there’s a good chance you will have to pay someone to take it off your hands. Instead, donate it and take a non-cash charitable contribution using fair market valuation.

Persian Rugs. No, these aren’t really in vogue for younger adults. However, the high-end market is still collecting in certain parts of the country, like Martha’s Vineyard. However, unless the rug is rare, it’s one of the hardest things to sell these days. If you think the value of the rug is below $2,000, it will be a hard sell. Like antique furniture, it may be best to donate these.

Linens. No, they don’t want them. They might not even own an iron or ironing board, and they definitely don’t set that kind of table. Give these to needlewomen who make handmade Christening clothes, wedding dresses and quinceañera gowns. You may also donate linens to costume shops of theaters and deduct the donation. A site like P4a.com has auction results to establish the fair market value of such objects.

Sterling Silver Flatware and Crystal Wine Services. Matching sets of sterling flatware are tough to sell because they rarely go for “antique” value. Do the children do a lot of formal entertaining? The same is true for crystal. These sets are too precious, and the wine they hold is too small a portion. Sites like Replacements.com offer matching services for people who do enjoy silver flatware and have recognized patterns. Because they sell per piece, and therefore buy per piece, sellers get a rather good price.

Fine Porcelain Dinnerware. Your grown children may not want to store four sets of fancy porcelain dinnerware and won’t see the benefit of unpacking it once a year for a holiday or event. China is something to consider selling. Know your pattern to get a quote. Some replacement companies buy per piece, so the aggregate of the selling price is always more than a bulk sale at a consignment store, which might be the only other option.

Reference: Next Avenue (March 1, 2018) “Your Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want”

Why Is Communication Important in Estate Planning?

Successful transition of wealth from generation to generation is best accomplished when family members have a shared understanding of the overall use of the family wealth. While the initial wealth creators have final say about how their assets are distributed, awareness and agreement on the part of the receiving family members regarding how the wealth is used can help preserve assets as they move to the next generation.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Communication Can Be The Key To Creating Harmony In Multi-Generational Estate Planning” says that coming to an agreement can sometimes be difficult, especially if family members bring their own perspectives and values to the estate planning process. However, good communication can help head off potential multi-generational conflicts before they happen.

One of the most significant challenges in achieving multi-generational wealth preservation is that each individual and generation has a different outlook on wealth. Today’s families could include four or even five generations. This big gap in ages could mean differing perspectives on many topics, including:

  • Personal values. Family members may have different belief systems and values, including how they view work, social and political systems, relationships, and other topics.
  • Investing priorities. Some generations may give greater importance to socially conscious investing than others. This could create a conflict when it comes to how and where to invest.
  • Shifting economic environments. Older generations who have lived through various economic scenarios may have very different perspectives than younger generations, particularly those just coming of age in a time of high inflation and a slowing economy.
  • Communication. Not every generation or family member is comfortable talking openly about money, especially when it comes to sharing how much is involved and how to spend it.
  • View of the role of a financial advisor. Some family members may see a financial advisor as a trusted partner, and others may be more skeptical.

While these differences can create challenges in the estate planning process, you can resolve them and reach an agreement about how to best manage the family’s wealth. Begin with a plan designed for the long-term, spanning current and future generations that’s flexible to meet the family’s changing needs and shifting economic environments.

Reference: Forbes (April 18, 2022) “Communication Can Be The Key To Creating Harmony In Multi-Generational Estate Planning”

Tips on Finding the Right In-Home Aide

About 90% of older adults would prefer to age in place, rather than move into an assisted living facility or nursing home, according to an AARP survey.

WRAL’s recent article entitled “How to choose an in-home health aide” says that, fortunately, you can have good health care and independent living with an in-home health aide. An aide can provide you with care for a short amount of time during the day or can stay with you around the clock. Depending on your needs, an aide can help with many tasks. These include things such as:

  • Chores, such as laundry, cooking and shopping
  • Daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, eating, grooming, moving from one place to another and toileting
  • Monitoring vital signs, like blood pressure, respiration, and pulse
  • Keep an eye on your physical and mental health, including your level of exercise and how much you are eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom; and
  • Assist in emergencies, like an accident, heart attack, or stroke.

There are a number of actions to take when you hire an in-home health aide. Here’s the rundown:

  1. Determine what kind of care, and how much, you need.
  2. Decide if you want to hire through an agency or on your own. The advantages of using an agency are that you will get a prescreened aide and will have backup care when that person is unavailable. You also won’t have to be concerned about offering benefits as an employer because the agency takes care of those.
  3. Consider what you can afford. If you qualify for Medicare or have long-term care insurance, some or all your care may be paid for. If you use an agency, the Mayo Clinic suggests you ask for written, detailed explanations of all services and fees associated with home care. Once you have this from several agencies, you’ll be able to choose the best one for your budget. If you hire a home health aide yourself, remember to think about sick days, holidays, vacation, payroll taxes and Social Security. That is because your aide will be considered a household employee.
  4. After you’ve found your health aide, create a care plan, which may include the following:
  • The days and hours you need assistance
  • The daily tasks that need to be completed
  • A schedule of appointments and medication times
  • A list of contacts, such as your doctor’s information
  • An emergency plan; as well as
  • Any of your personal preferences.

Re-evaluate your care plan every few months. Ask your family to discuss this with you because having loved ones on board will be helpful in the future, when you may need more support as you continue to age in place.

Reference: WRAL (April 17, 2022) “How to choose an in-home health aide”

Is Your Incapacity Plan in Place?

Wise incapacity planning usually includes the execution of a power of attorney.

This is a document that appoints an agent who can legally sign checks, pay bills and make other financial decisions on your behalf, as the principal, in the event you become incapacitated by illness or an accident.

A power of attorney is also used when the principal is unable to be present to sign necessary documents.

The designated agent can be given broad legal authority or limited authority to make decisions about the principal’s property, finances, or medical care.

FedWeek’s recent article entitled “Putting an Incapacity Plan in Place” suggests that, rather than a “regular” power of attorney, you may prefer one of the following:

A durable power of attorney can name a trusted friend, relative, or advisor to sign papers, if you are unable to make knowledgeable decisions.

These documents remain in effect if you become incapacitated.

Springing power is a durable power of attorney that will go into effect only if one or more doctors declare that you are incompetent or that you cannot perform some “activities of daily living,” such as being able to get dressed and go to the bathroom.

A springing power will not go into effect as long as you are competent.

Some financial institutions also may not accept your power of attorney because they require the use of their own forms.

Send a copy of your power to each of your banks, brokers and other accounts to see if there is an issue. Some companies will also not recognize old powers.

Add an expiration date on the document and update it every year or two, so it expresses your current wishes.

A power of attorney can also end for a number of reasons, such as when the principal revokes the agreement or dies, when a court invalidates it, or when the agent can no longer carry out the responsibilities outlined.

In the case of a married couple, the authorization may be invalidated if the principal and the agent divorce.

Reference: FedWeek (Feb. 1, 2022) “Putting an Incapacity Plan in Place”

Medicare’s Coverage of New Controversial and Expensive Alzheimer’s Drug Is Limited

The final decision, which comes after a proposed policy released in January, will have significant consequences for millions of Alzheimer’s patients and tens of millions of Medicare enrollees. It’s the latest step in the drug’s contentious path to market, reports CNN’s recent article entitled “Medicare limits coverage of controversial Alzheimer’s drug to those in clinical trials.”

The policy is expected to restrict the number of people who can receive the medication. This coverage policy would also apply to other drugs in this class, such as monoclonal antibodies that target amyloid, or plaque, for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, that the FDA may approve in the future.

Biogen, the maker of Aduhelm, called CMS’ decision unprecedented and said it will deny all Medicare enrollees access to the drug and may limit coverage for treatments approved in the future.

“When additional data from this new class of treatments become available, Biogen urges CMS to reconsider today’s decision for all FDA-approved amyloid-beta targeting therapies,” the company said in a statement, noting that it is considering its options.

The CMS made this decision based on evidence and analysis of public feedback, CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement. More than 10,000 comments on the proposed policy were submitted.

“CMS has a responsibility to ensure that people with Medicare have equitable and appropriate access to therapies that are reasonable and necessary for use in the Medicare population,” she said. “Through this decision, we are creating a pathway for people with Medicare to quickly access drugs the FDA determines have shown a clinical benefit and encourages manufacturers and trial administrators to ensure that the clinical trials recruit racially diverse participants.”

The agency examined the potential for patient benefits against the significance of serious unknown factors that could result in harm, Dr. Lee Fleisher, CMS chief medical officer, said in a statement.

“There is the potential for promise with this treatment; however, there is not currently enough evidence of demonstrating improved health outcomes to say that it is reasonable and necessary for people with Medicare, which is a key consideration for CMS when making national coverage determinations,” Fleisher said.

CNN says that Medicare has never required enrollees to participate in a clinical trial for a drug already approved by the FDA that is being used for its intended purpose.

The FDA’s approval of Aduhelm last June brought about questions and concerns about the process, the drug’s efficacy, as well as its annual cost. Biogen initially priced it at about $56,000 a year. The approval was also a big motivator for a huge increase in Medicare Part B premiums for 2022. The standard monthly payment increased to $170.10, up from $148.50 last year, for the more than 63 million enrollees.

Roughly $10 of the premium spike is due to Aduhelm, a CMS official told CNN. The remainder is from a general increase in health care prices and usage, as well as from congressional action that limited the rise in Part B premiums for 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Reference: CNN (April 7,  2022) “Medicare limits coverage of controversial Alzheimer’s drug to those in clinical trials”