Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Why was Widow of Henry Ford II in a Fight over the Estate?

Henry Ford II’s heirs say that his attorney, Frank Chopin, tried to control their access to Ford’s 80-year-old widow, Kathleen DuRoss Ford.

Her daughters, Kimberly DuRoss and Deborah DuRoss Guibord, alleged that Chopin abused her, by “[forcing] pills down her throat.”

The Wealth Advisor article entitled “Ford Heirs Lose Battle to Oust Mother’s Allegedly Abusive Caregiver” explains that Chopin has power of attorney over the widow’s affair and denies the allegations.

A Palm Beach, Florida judge denied their request to have Chopin removed as her caregiver. It was a decision that left her daughters, grandchildren and even her 82-year-old sister, Sharon, distraught.

Tara DuRoss, a 23-year-old granddaughter of Ford’s, said that Chopin had restricted her time with her relatives. They were forced to scheduled conference calls and meetings away from her home. However, the calls then stopped.

“I used to call her every day. We just want to be able … to see her.”

Chopin said that it is untrue that Tara spoke to Kathleen daily. He called her an “idiot child,” and said the family was “estranged,” unless “they wanted something.”

Kathleen DuRoss Ford passed away on May 9.

Henry Ford II was also known as “HF2” or “Hank the Deuce.” He was the eldest son of Edsel Ford and eldest grandson of Henry Ford of the leading family in the American automotive industry.

After his death from pneumonia in 1987, DuRoss Ford was involved in a public fight over the fate of the estate, which was then thought to be at least $350 million. The legal battle eventually settled, and she received an annual allowance that was worth millions of dollars.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (March 31, 2020). “Ford Heirs Lose Battle to Oust Mother’s Allegedly Abusive Caregiver”

Don’t Neglect a Plan for Your Pet During the Pandemic

If you have a pet, chances are you have worried about what would happen to your furry companion if something were to happen to you. However, worrying and having an actual plan are two very different things, as discussed at a Council of Aging webinar. That’s the subject of the article “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future” that appeared in The Harvard Press.

It’s stressful to worry about something happening, but it’s not that difficult to put something in place. After you’ve got a plan for yourself, your children and your property, add a plan for your pet.

Start by considering who would really commit to caring for your pet, if you had a long-term illness or in the event of your unexpected passing. Have a discussion with them. Don’t assume that they’ll take care of your pet. A casual agreement isn’t enough. The owner needs to be sure that the potential caretaker understands the degree of commitment and responsibility involved.

If you should need to receive home health care, don’t also assume that your health care provider will be willing to take care of your pet. It’s best to find a pet sitter or friend who can care for the pet before the need arises. Write down the pet’s information: the name and contact info for the vets, the brand of food, medication and any behavioral quirks.

There are legal documents that can be put into place to protect a pet. Your will can contain general directions about how the pet should be cared for, and a certain amount of money can be set aside in a will, although that method may not be legally enforceable. Owners cannot leave money directly to a pet, but a pet trust can be created to hold money to be used for the benefit of the pet, under the management of the trustee. The trust can also be accessed while the owner is still living. Therefore, if the owner becomes incapacitated, the pet’s care will not be interrupted.

An estate planning attorney will know the laws concerning pet trusts in your state. Not all states permit them, although many do.

A pet trust is also preferable to a mention in a will, because the caretaker will have to wait until the will is probated to receive funds to care for your pet. The cost of veterinary services, food, medication, boarding or pet sitters can add up quickly, as pet owners know.

A durable power of attorney can also be used to make provisions for the care of a pet. The person in that role has the authority to access and use the owner’s financial resources to care for the animal.

The legal documents will not contain information about the pet, so it’s a good idea to provide info on the pet’s habits, medications, etc., in a separate document. Choose the caretaker wisely—your pet’s well-being will depend upon it!

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”

Some States are Lowering Taxes to Entice Retires to Relocate

The State of Maryland excludes from taxes up to $31,100 in income from pensions and 401(k) plans. However, its state and local taxes on other types of income—including distributions from IRAs—can run as high as 9%.

Kiplinger’s March article entitled “States Lower Taxes to Court Retirees” explains the good news for Marylanders willing to relocate, is that there are other states which give retirees a break. For example, Delaware and Virginia are both friendlier to tax-conscious seniors, according to Kiplinger’s state-by-state guide to taxes on retirees. Marylanders can move to Florida, which has no income tax and is on Kiplinger’s list of most-tax-friendly states.

To address his state’s image and tax issues, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has introduced a bill that would eliminate state taxes on the first $50,000 of income for retirees making up to $100,000 in federally adjusted gross income. Therefore, retirees with incomes of $50,000 or less would pay no state tax.

Other states are also trying to find ways to keep retirees from heading off to lower-tax states. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recently signed legislation that will make it easier for seniors in Cook County (which includes Chicago) to apply for a property tax break of up to $8,000 a year. Kiplinger has designated Illinois as one of the least tax-friendly states for retirees, mostly due to its high property taxes. West Virginia got a “mixed” rating from Kiplinger for the way it taxes retirees. They are phasing out taxes on Social Security benefits over three years. New Mexico lawmakers are considering several bills that would repeal or reduce taxes on Social Security. The Land of Enchantment also received a “mixed” rating from Kiplinger.

Here are the states where the most retirees are moving, based on the number of people age 60 and older who moved into a state versus the number of people who moved out.

State – Net Migration

  • Florida – 68,918
  • Arizona – 31,201
  • South Carolina – 12,001
  • North Carolina – 9,209
  • Nevada – 8,582
  • Tennessee – 8,259
  • Texas – 8,296
  • Washington – 3,964
  • Idaho – 2,966
  • Delaware – 2,605

Source: Smart Asset analysis of 2017 census data

Whether you’re planning to stay where you are when you retire or move somewhere else, it’s critical that you understand and include the cost of federal and state taxes, when estimating your retirement budget.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 4, 2020) “States Lower Taxes to Court Retirees”

Will the Sunshine State Crack Down on Crimes against the Elderly?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill recently approving the creation of elder abuse fatality review teams.

These teams are authorized by Senate Bill 400, which permits, but doesn’t require the creation of elder death review teams in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. The teams would review cases in their judicial circuit where abuse or neglect has been found to be linked to or the cause of an individual’s death.

The Naples Daily News’ recent article entitled “Deaths of Florida’s elderly who were abused or neglected to get increased scrutiny under new law” reports that for many years, the state has authorized teams to examine child deaths and domestic-violence deaths where abuse is involved. However, the state hasn’t had a comparable review when an elderly adult dies, even under suspicious circumstances.

State Senator Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, has sponsored the bill for the last four years and remarked that it’s “incumbent upon us as a state” to review cases of elder abuse and to look for gaps in service and possible policy changes to better protect the elderly.

“It can help to reduce elder abuse, if somebody knows that it’s going to be up for review if something happens to that senior,” said Gibson, the Senate minority leader. “The other thing is to prevent what happened in the cases they’re reviewing, to keep that from happening to another senior.”

Elder advocates believe that the new elder death review teams could help decrease the number of cases of nursing home neglect and mistreatment, like those identified in a recent USA TODAY Network – Florida. The investigation looked at 54 nursing home deaths from 2013 through 2017 where state inspectors cited neglect and mistreatment as factors.

The investigation found that Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration seldom investigated the deaths.

The new law states that these elder abuse fatality review teams can be established by state attorneys and would be part of the Department of Elder Affairs. They would be composed of volunteers and open to people from a variety of disciplines, such as law enforcement officers, elder law attorneys, prosecutors, judges, nurses and other elder care advocates.

The teams are restricted to looking at files that have been closed by the State Attorney’s Office, whether or not it resulted in criminal prosecution. Remarkably, state attorneys didn’t prosecute any of the 54 nursing home deaths reviewed in the network’s investigation.

Reference: Naples Daily News (June 11, 2020) “Deaths of Florida’s elderly who were abused or neglected to get increased scrutiny under new law”

Should I Give My Kid the House Now or Leave It to Him in My Will?

Transferring your house to your children while you’re alive may avoid probate, the court process that otherwise follows death. However, gifting a home also can result in a big, unnecessary tax burden and put your house at risk, if your children are sued or file for bankruptcy.

Further, you also could be making a big mistake, if you hope it will help keep the house from being used for your nursing home bills.

MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “Why you shouldn’t give your house to your adult children” advises that there are better ways to transfer a house to your children, as well as a little-known potential fix that may help even if the giver has since passed away.

If you bequeath a house to your children so that they get it after your death, they get a “step-up in tax basis.” All the appreciation that occurred while the parent owned the house is never taxed. However, when a parent gives an adult child a house, it can be a tax nightmare for the recipient. For example, if the mother paid $16,000 for her home in 1976, and the current market value is $200,000, none of that gain would be taxable, if the son inherited the house.

Families who see this mistake in time can undo the damage, by gifting the house back to the parent.

Sometimes people transfer a home to try to qualify for Medicaid, the government program that pays health care and nursing home bills for the poor. However, any gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for the program can result in a penalty period, when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.

In addition, giving your home to someone else also can expose you to their financial problems. Their creditors could file liens on your home and, depending on state law, get some or most of its value. In a divorce, the house could become an asset that must be sold and divided in a property settlement.

However, Tax Code says that if the parent retains a “life interest” or “life estate” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift.

There are specific rules for what qualifies as a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the property and liability for its bills. To make certain, a child, as executor of his mother’s estate, could file a gift tax return on her behalf to show that he was given a “remainder interest,” or the right to inherit when his mother’s life interest expired at her death.

There are smarter ways to transfer a house. There are other ways around probate. Many states and DC permit “transfer on death” deeds that let people leave their homes to beneficiaries without having to go through probate. Another option is a living trust.

Reference: MarketWatch (April 16, 2020) “Why you shouldn’t give your house to your adult children”

Must Seniors at Care Facilities Sign over Stimulus Checks?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that some states across the country have received reports of nursing homes and assisted living facilities that have falsely said that COVID-19 stimulus checks are “resources,” under the rules of federal benefit programs that must be used to pay for services.

It’s “not just a horror story making the rounds.” The FTC says that these are actual reports that officials at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office have been getting – and handling. The FTC noted that other states are experiencing the same types of complaints.

The FTC says that it’s not true and urges people to check with family members who get Medicaid and live in these facilities.

They should file a complaint with the state attorney general, if they or a loved one have experienced this problem, says CBS Local New York’s recent article entitled “FTC: Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities Cannot Take Stimulus Money From Medicaid Patients.”

“We’ve been hearing that some facilities are trying to take the stimulus payments intended for their residents on Medicaid,” the FTC says. “Then they’re requiring those people to sign over those funds to the facility. Why? Well, they’re claiming that, because the person is on Medicaid, the facility gets to keep the stimulus payment.”

Some facilities are claiming that, because the person is on Medicaid, the facility is entitled to keep the stimulus payment.

However, that is false. According to the CARES Act, these economic impact payments are a tax credit, and the law says that tax credits don’t count as “resources” for federal benefits programs, like Medicaid.

If you think there’s a problem, you can also file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

Reference: CBS Local New York (May 19, 2020) “FTC: Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities Cannot Take Stimulus Money From Medicaid Patients”

Can Exercise Help with Dementia?

A new study shows that even when your memory starts to fade, you can still do something about it by adding aerobic exercise to your lifestyle, reports News Atlas’ recent article entitled “Aerobic exercise shown to improve memory in those at risk of dementia.”

The study concentrated on the long-term changes to cerebral blood flow that comes from aerobic exercise in patients already presenting with age-related mild cognitive impairment. Thirty subjects with an average age of 66 who did not regularly exercise but had signs of memory impairment were divided into two groups.

One group was asked to do several aerobic exercise sessions each week for 12 months, and the other group performed stretch and balance sessions aimed at strengthening their upper and lower body while keeping heart rates low. MRI scans calculated cerebral blood flow in all participants at the beginning and end of the year-long study.

After a year, the aerobic exercise group showed increased cerebral blood flow to the anterior cingulate cortex and adjacent prefrontal cortex, relative to the stretching group. Memory tests conducted at the start and end of the study also showed a 47% improvement in the aerobic group, while the stretching group had only minimal improvements. The study suggests a direct correlation between improvement on the memory test scores and increases in cerebral blood flow to these key areas of the brain.

While the number of people studied was small, the results are consistent with a large volume of prior research affirming the value of exercise in maintaining cognitive abilities in older age. Aerobic exercise appears to confer the greatest cognitive protections, especially in those most at risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers note that the group of patients that were recruited in the study all reported little to no regular exercise prior to the trial. The novelty of this particular trial is that it offers signs that aerobic exercise can confer cognitive benefits, even when started at an advanced age, after memory decline has already started, and those cognitive benefits may be mediated specifically by improved blood flow to specific regions of the brain.

The study was published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Reference: News Atlas (May 24, 2020) “Aerobic exercise shown to improve memory in those at risk of dementia”

What If Grandma Didn’t Have a Will and Died from COVID-19?

The latest report shows about 1.87 million reported cases and at least 108,000 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the U.S., according to data released by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

Here’s a question that is being asked a lot these days: What happens if someone dies “intestate,” or without having established a will or estate plans?

If you die without a will in California and many other states, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” statutes.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “My loved one died without a will – now what?” explains that there are laws in each state that will dictate what happens, if you die without a will.

In Pennsylvania, the laws list the order of who receives upon your death, if you die without a will: your spouse, your children, and then your parents (if still alive), your siblings, and then on down the line to cousins, aunts and uncles, and the like. Typically, first on every state’s list is the spouse and the children.

You may also have some valuable assets that will not pass via your will and aren’t affected by your state’s intestate succession laws. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Any property that you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • Your life insurance proceeds
  • Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts
  • Any securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • A payable-on-death bank account
  • Your vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration; or
  • Property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivorship.

These types of assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.

It’s quite unusual for the government to claim a deceased person’s estate. While it might be allowed in some states, it’s considered a last resort. Typically, we all have some relatives.

If you have a loved one who has died without a will, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about your next steps.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (June 1, 2020) “My loved one died without a will – now what?

Here’s Why You Need an Estate Plan

It’s always the right time to do your estate planning, but it’s most critical when you have beneficiaries who are minors or with special needs, says the Capital Press in the recent article, “Ag Finance: Why you need to do estate planning.”

While it’s likely that most adult children can work things out, even if it’s costly and time-consuming in probate, minor young children must have protections in place. Wills are frequently written, so the estate goes to the child when he reaches age 18. However, few teens can manage big property at that age. A trust can help, by directing that the property will be held for him by a trustee or executor until a set age, like 25 or 30.

Probate is the default process to administer an estate after someone’s death, when a will or other documents are presented in court and an executor is appointed to manage it. It also gives creditors a chance to present claims for money owed to them. Distribution of assets will occur only after all proper notices have been issued, and all outstanding bills have been paid.

Probate can be expensive. However, wise estate planning can help most families avoid this and ensure the transition of wealth and property in a smooth manner. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about establishing a trust. Farmers can name themselves as the beneficiaries during their lifetime, and instruct to whom it will pass after their death. A living trust can be amended or revoked at any time, if circumstances change.

The title of the farm is transferred to the trust with the farm’s former owner as trustee. With a trust, it makes it easier to avoid probate because nothing’s in his name, and the property can transition to the beneficiaries without having to go to court. Living trusts also help in the event of incapacity or a disease, like Alzheimer’s, to avoid conservatorship (guardianship of an adult who loses capacity). It can also help to decrease capital gains taxes, since the property transfers before their death.

If you have several children, but only two work with you on the farm, an attorney can help you with how to divide an estate that is land rich and cash poor.

Reference: Capital Press (December 20, 2018) “Ag Finance: Why you need to do estate planning”