Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Can a Teddy Bear Help Elderly with Dementia to Communicate?

This cuddly bear engages with individuals with memory disorders.

WGAL’s article entitled “Talking teddy bear gives patients with dementia a new way to connect” reports that Cue Teddy is the brainchild of Dr. Roger Nelson.

Dr. Nelson is a retired physical therapist whose family dealt with dementia. He saw a need that was not being met.

“They lacked this ability of being able to talk and to think and then to connect with other people,” he said.

Dr. Nelson, therefore, teamed up with Rod Tosten, the vice president of IT at Gettysburg College, to bring the bear to life.

“Cue Teddy cues the individual to move and to stay active,” Tosten said.

The bear goes through a series of questions and commands, tapping into three areas of the brain: thought, motion and touch.

“One of the things we’re testing is what colors work well and what kind of fabric works well,” Tosten said.

But why a teddy bear?

“Everybody kind of remembers their first teddy bear they ever got and the name of the teddy bear,” Nelson said.

In addition, making people remember is part of the goal.

“I hope that a lot of people adopt it and use it because it’s a valuable tool,” Nelson said.

“To be able to help other people is just amazing. I just love working on this,” Tosten said.

Cue Teddy is currently in the early stages of development. When it is ready, the two creators will be looking for a partner to mass produce it.

Reference: WGAL (Feb. 14, 2022) “Talking teddy bear gives patients with dementia a new way to connect

Why Is Estate Planning Review Important?

Maybe your estate plan was created when you were single, and there have been some significant changes in your life. Perhaps you got married or divorced.

You also may now be on better terms with children with whom you were once estranged.

Tax and estate laws can also change over time, requiring further updates to your planning documents.

WMUR’s recent article entitled “The ‘final’ estate-planning step” reminds us that change is a constant thing. With that in mind, here are some key indicators that a review is in order.

  • The value of your estate has changed dramatically
  • You or your spouse changed jobs
  • Changes to your income level or income needs
  • You are retiring and no longer working
  • There is a divorce or marriage in your family
  • There is a new child or grandchild
  • There is a death in the family
  • You (or a close family member) have become ill or incapacitated
  • Your parents have become dependent on you
  • You have formed, purchased, or sold a business;
  • You make significant financial transactions, such as substantial gifts, borrowing or lending money, or purchasing, leasing, or selling assets or investments
  • You have moved
  • You have purchased a vacation home or other property in another state
  • A designated trustee, executor, or guardian dies or changes his or her mind about serving; and
  • You are making changes in your insurance coverage.

Reference: WMUR (Feb. 3, 2022) “The ‘final’ estate-planning step”

Does Marriage have an Impact on a Will?

It is very difficult to challenge a marriage once it has occurred, since the capacity needed to marry is relatively low. Even a person who is under conservatorship because they are severely incapacitated may marry, unless there is a court order stating otherwise, says the article “Estate Planning: On Being Married, estate planning and administration” from Lake Country News. This unfortunate fact allows scammers to woo and wed their victims.

What about individuals who think they are married when they are not? A “putative” spouse is someone who genuinely believed they were married, although the marriage is invalid, void, or voidable because of a legal defect. An example of a legal defect is bigamy, if the person is already married when they marry another person.

Once a couple is married, they owe each other a duty to treat each other fairly. In certain states, they are prohibited from taking unfair advantage of each other. Depending on the state of residence, property is also owned in different ways. In a community property state, such as California, marital earnings and anything acquired while married is presumed to be community property.

In a community property state, debts incurred before or during the marriage are also shared. In a number of states, marriage is sufficient reason for a creditor to come after the assets of a spouse, if they married someone with pre-marital debts.

There are exceptions. If a married person puts their earnings during marriage into a separate bank account their spouse is not able to access, then those deposited earnings are not available for debtor spouse’s debts incurred before the marriage took place.

If a married person dies without a will, also known as “intestate,” the surviving spouse is the next of kin.  In most cases, they will inherit the assets of the decedent. If the decedent had children from a prior marriage, they may end up with nothing.

These are all reasons why couples should have frank discussions about finances, including assets and debts, before marrying. Coming into the marriage with debt may not be a problem for some people, but they should be advised beforehand.

A pre-nuptial agreement can state the terms of the couple’s financial health as individuals and declare their intentions. An experienced estate planning attorney can create a pre-nuptial to align with the couple’s estate plan, so the estate plan and the pre-nuptial work together.

Marriage brings rights and responsibilities which impact life and death for a couple. Starting a marriage based on full disclosure and proper planning clears the way for a focus on togetherness, and not solely the business side of marriage.

Reference: Lake Country News (Feb. 12, 2022) “Estate Planning: On Being Married, estate planning and administration”

Am I Getting All the Social Security Benefits I Can?

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking” says that the Social Security Administration provides payments to spouses, children and those with disabilities, among others. Let’s look at this in detail.

  1. Spousal benefits via a husband or wife. Spouses can get up to half of their husband’s or wife’s monthly benefit. Even stay-at-home spouses without their own work history can claim benefits with this method. You can start claiming spousal benefits as early as age 62. However, benefits are reduced if payments begin before your full retirement age. If you are entitled to your own benefits, as well as spousal benefits, you will get an amount equal to whichever benefit level is greater.
  2. Spousal benefits via an ex-spouse. Even if you are divorced, you may be entitled to get spousal benefits. However, all of the following must apply to your situation:
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to receive Social Security benefits;
  • You were married at least 10 years to your ex-spouse;
  • You are currently unmarried; and
  • You are at least 62 years old.

The benefit that you are entitled to get based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work. Claiming spousal benefits as a divorced person does not impact your ex’s benefit amount. It also does not affect any benefits their current spouse can receive, if they have remarried.

  1. Survivor’s benefits for widows and widowers. If your spouse dies, you may still be able to receive up to 100% of their Social Security retirement benefits. Divorced spouses may also be able to get survivor’s benefits, if they were married for at least 10 years and are now unmarried. Most widows and widowers can begin claiming survivor’s benefits as early as age 60. Those who have a disability and became disabled prior to or within seven years of their spouse’s death can start benefits as early as age 50. In addition, widows and widowers of any age can get survivor’s benefits, if they are caring for a deceased worker’s child who’s younger than age 16 or disabled.
  2. Survivor’s benefits for children. Children can get payments from a deceased parent’s record as well. Survivor’s benefits are available to children up to age 18 (or 19 for if attending elementary or secondary school full-time) These benefits may extend beyond that, if a child becomes disabled and remains disabled before age 22. Depending on the circumstances, grandchildren and stepchildren may also be eligible for these benefits.
  3. Parent’s benefits. Parents who depended on their children for financial support may be eligible to get benefits from Social Security if that child dies. To be eligible , you have to meet a number of criteria, including the following:
  • The deceased worker must have sufficient work credits to qualify for Social Security benefits;
  • You must be at least age 62 and, in most cases, cannot be married after the worker’s death;
  • You must have received at least half of your support from the deceased worker at certain points in time;
  • You were the natural parent or became the legal adoptive parent or stepparent prior to the worker turning 16 years old; and
  • You are not eligible for a retirement benefit from Social Security that exceeds the parent’s benefit.
  1. Disability benefits. To get monthly benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance program you must have a work history that makes you eligible for Social Security and be unable to work now because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least a year or end in death.
  2. Supplemental Security Income. These benefits do not come from Social Security taxes, but rather the program uses general tax dollars to provide benefits to adults and children with disabilities, blindness, or limited income and resources. The SSI program is designed to provide cash assistance for basic needs, such as food, clothing and housing. Because it is funded by general tax revenue, there is no work history requirement to receive these benefits.

Reference: Money Talks News (Feb. 8, 2022) “7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking”

What Can’t I Forget in My Will Now that I’m 50?

Yahoo News’ recent article entitled “If You’re Over 50, Don’t Leave This Out of Your Will, Expert Says” fills us in on what we can’t forget in a will after the big 5-0.

Incapacity. A 2021 survey from Caring.com says that almost two-thirds of adults do not have a will. Even those thinking about estate planning do not consider a plan for addressing the possibility of incapacity.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to create a power of attorney, so in the event you are incapable of making decisions because of your mental state or disability, you have someone you trust doing it for you.

More than a will. A will should be one component of a comprehensive estate plan that addresses who gets what when you die, but also who can take care of business, if you are not able to care for yourself. Naming a person in advance lets you to avoid having court involvement and lets you take control of your future.

The law has many ways for you to select who will have authority and care for you, if you become incapacitated. This is something that you can and should discuss with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Will backups. Designating loved ones you trust should be the rule in all facets of estate planning. However, it is critical to be certain that you have backups (“successors” or “alternates”), in the event that a person you’ve selected can’t fulfill their role.

Many people around age 50 who see their thriving, productive children making their way in the world fail to consider the thought that their children may not be available or able to serve a role. Designating more than one backup might not seem like it is a big deal, but you should consider the possibility that a loved one might be incapacitated, predecease you, or be unavailable.

Keep your will current. As your life changes, so do your needs. Therefore, it is vital to be sure that your will is up-to-date. You should review your will regularly (at least every few years) to make sure that it still reflects your current thinking.

You should also be sure you know where an original copy of the will is located. It is important to keep track of it. You can leave it locked away with your attorney or some other secure place, but you need to know where it is.

Reference: Yahoo News (Feb. 6, 2022) “If You’re Over 50, Don’t Leave This Out of Your Will, Expert Says”

What are States Doing to Help Pay Long-Term Care Costs in Future?

Starting this year, workers in Washington state must pay 58 cents of every $100 they earn into the Washington Cares Fund. That money will help pay their long-term care costs in the future. Those with qualifying long-term care insurance can be eligible for an exemption.

Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “How Medicaid and Medicare Fit Into Planning for Long-Term Care” says that starting in 2025, those Washington residents who’ve paid in for at least three out of the prior six years, or for 10 years in total, will be able to withdraw up to $36,500 to pay for their costs of care. It is an effort by the state to fill in a major gap in our long-term care system. California has also enacted a law to bring down the eligibility threshold for Medicaid to totally eliminate it by the end of 2023. New York state is considering similar legislation.

Any senior may need assistance as they age, whether due to dementia, illness, loss of eyesight, or simple frailty. The level of assistance and how long it will last can vary greatly. However, few retirees have enough saved to pay for their care for very long out-of-pocket. According to research from Boston College, more than half of today’s 65-year-olds will need a medium to high level of assistance for more than a year. Almost two thirds of that care will be provided by family members – mostly children and spouses – for no cost, but more than a third will be provided by paid caregivers.

According to the Congressional Research Service, 43% of long-term care services are paid for by the Medicaid program, 20% by Medicare, 15% out-of-pocket and 9% by private insurance. The rest comes from a combination of private and public sources that includes charitable payments and VA benefits.

Medicare Coverage. This is the federal health insurance program for people beginning at age 65. Note that Medicare only covers so-called “skilled” needs following a hospitalization. It pays for up to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility following a hospitalization and longer term for home health services.However, the home health coverage is not comprehensive.

Medicaid Coverage. The financial rules for Medicaid coverage are complicated and state-specific. However, generally people must spend down to about $2,000 in savings and investments. Planning to use Medicaid to pay for long-term care is also complicated by the fact that while its coverage of nursing home care is comprehensive, its payment for home care and assisted living facility fees is only partial and differs both from state to state. Even if you may be able to leverage Medicaid to help pay home and assisted living care, you must also rely on your own savings.

Out-of-Pocket Costs. The low percentage of long-term care costs paid for out-of-pocket is surprising, in light of the vast growth of both assisted living and private home care agencies over the last several decades. However, this demonstrates the fact that most older adults have limited resources to pay for anything beyond their basic living expenses. When the need for care arises, they must rely on family members or Medicaid.

Insurance. A large component of insurance coverage of long-term care consists of Medicare supplemental insurance payments for skilled nursing facility copayments. While Medicare will pay for up to 100 days of skilled care following a hospitalization, it actually pays entirely for only the first 20 days. For days 21 through 100, there is a copayment which for most is paid by their MediGap insurance. As such, long-term care insurance pays for a very small share of long-term care costs. For those who have coverage, it can be terrific. However, due to its high cost, those who have it often also have the resources to pay for their care out-of-pocket, at least for some period of time.

Veterans Benefits. More vets are taking advantage of a Veterans Administration benefit known as Aid & Assistance that will provide veterans who qualify financially with up to $2,431 a month (in 2022) to help pay for their care.

Reference: Next Avenue (Feb. 2, 2022) `“How Medicaid and Medicare Fit Into Planning for Long-Term Care”

How Do You Pass Down a Vacation Home?

If your family enjoys a treasured vacation home, have you planned for what will happen to the property when you die? There are many different ways to keep a vacation home in the family. However, they all require planning to avoid stressful and expensive issues, says a recent article “Your Vacation Home Needs and Estate Plan!” from Kiplinger.

First, establish how your spouse and family members feel about the property. Do they all want to keep it in the family, or have they been attending family gatherings only to please you? Be realistic about whether the next generation can afford the upkeep, since vacation homes need the same care and maintenance as primary residences. If all agree to keep the home and are committed to doing so, consider these three ways to make it happen.

Leave the vacation home to children outright, pre or post-mortem. The simplest way to transfer any property is transferring via a deed. This can lead to some complications down the road. If all children own the property equally, they all have equal weight in making decisions about the use and management of the property. Do your children usually agree on things, and do they have the ability to work well together? Do their spouses get along? Sometimes the simplest solution at the start becomes complicated as time goes on.

If the property is transferred by deed, the children could have a Use and Maintenance Agreement created to set terms and rules for the home’s use. If everyone agrees, this could work. When the children have their own individual interest in the property, they also have the right to leave their share to their own children—they could even give away or sell their shares while they are living. If one child is enmeshed in an ugly divorce, the ex-spouse could end up owning a share of the house.

Create a Limited Liability Company, or LLC. This is a more formalized agreement used to exert more control over the property. An LLC operating agreement contains detailed rules on the use and management of the vacation home. The owner of the property puts the home in the LLC, then can give away interests in the LLC all at once or over a period of years. Your estate planning attorney may advise using the annual exclusion amount, currently at $16,000 per recipient, to make this an estate tax benefit as well.

Consider who you want to have shares in the home. Depending on the laws of your state, the LLC can be used to restrict ownership by bloodline, that is, letting only descendants be eligible for ownership. This could help keep ex-spouses or non-family members from ownership shares.

An LLC is a good option, if the home may be used as a rental property. Correctly created, the LLC can limit liability. Profits can be used to offset expenses, which would likely help maintain the property over many more years than if the children solely funded it.

What about a trust? The house can be placed into an Irrevocable Trust, with the children as beneficiaries. The terms of the trust would govern the management and use of the home. An irrevocable trust would be helpful in shielding the family from any creditor liens.

A Revocable Trust can be used to give the property to family members at the time of your death. A sub-trust, a section of the trust, is used for specific terms of how the property is to be managed, rules about when to sell the property and who is permitted to make the decision to sell it.

A Qualified Personal Residence Trust allows parents to gift the vacation home at a reduced value, while allowing them to use the property for a set term of years. When the term ends, the vacation home is either left outright to the children or it is held in trust for the next generation.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 1, 2022) “Your Vacation Home Needs and Estate Plan!”

Who Is the Best Choice for Power of Attorney?

Picking a person to serve as your Power of Attorney is an extremely important part of your estate plan, although it is often treated like an afterthought once the will and trust documents are completed. Naming a POA needs to be given the same serious consideration as creating a will, as discussed in this recent article “Avoid powers of attorney mistakes” from Medical Economics.

Choosing the wrong person to act on your behalf as your Power of Attorney (POA) could lead to a host of unintended consequences, leading to financial disaster. If the same person has been named your POA for healthcare, you and your family could be looking at a double-disaster. What’s more, if the same person is also a beneficiary, the potential for conflict and self-dealing gets even worse.

The Power of Attorney is a fiduciary, meaning they are required to put your interests and the interest of the estate ahead of their own. To select a POA to manage your financial life, it should be someone who you trust will always put your interests first, is good at managing money and has a track record of being responsible. Spouses are typically chosen for POAs, but if your spouse is poor at money management, or if your marriage is new or on shaky ground, it may be better to consider an alternate person.

If the wrong person is named a POA, a self-dealing agent could change beneficiaries, redirect portfolio income to themselves, or completely undo your investment portfolio.

The person you name as a healthcare POA could protect the quality of your life and ensure that your remaining years are spent with good care and in comfort. However, the opposite could also occur. Your healthcare POA is responsible for arranging for your healthcare. If the healthcare POA is a beneficiary, could they hasten your demise by choosing a substandard nursing facility or failing to take you to medical appointments to get their inheritance? It has happened.

Most POAs, both healthcare and financial, are not evil characters like we see in the movies, but often incompetence alone can lead to a negative outcome.

How can you protect yourself? First, know what you are empowering your POAs to do. A boilerplate POA limits your ability to make decisions about who may do what tasks on your behalf. Work with your estate planning attorney to create a POA for your needs. Do you want one person to manage your day-to-day personal finances, while another is in charge of your investment portfolio? Perhaps you want a third person to be in charge of selling your home and distributing your personal possessions, if you have to move into a nursing home.

If someone, a family member, or a spouse, simply presents you with POA documents and demands you sign them, be suspicious. Your POA should be created by you and your estate planning attorney to achieve your wishes for care in case of incapacity.

Different grown children might do better with different tasks. If your trusted, beloved daughter is a nurse, she may be in a better position to manage your healthcare than another sibling. If you have two adult children who work together well and are respected and trusted, you might want to make them co-agents to take care of you.

Your estate planning attorney has seen all kinds of family situations concerning POAs for finances and healthcare. Ask their advice and don’t hesitate to share your concerns. They will be able to help you come up with a solution to protect you, your estate and your family.

Reference: Medical Economics (Feb. 3, 2022) “Avoid powers of attorney mistakes”

How to Maintain Mobility while Getting Older

About 27.5% of people globally do not get enough physical activity, according to a 2018 study in The Lancet Global Health of nearly two million people.

Sufficient physical activity was defined as at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.

Livestrong’s recent article entitled “Why Your Mobility Worsens As You Age, and What to Do About It” examines the habits that experts want you to apply:

  1. Remain Active. Try to build activity into your day and keep moving. One of the simplest and best exercises is walking. Start small and work up to longer sessions, until you reach 30 minutes a day. If you do not have the time for a full walk some days, do what you can because every bit counts.
  2. Mix Up Your Moves. While it is great to find a workout you like, doing the exact same exercises every day is not ideal for joint mobility. It is better to do exercise sessions that look different on different days of the week. You can and should repeat your workouts from week to week. Experts say a combination of activities, such as strength training, cycling, running and yoga, will move your joints in all the ways possible.
  3. Take Standing Breaks. If you have a desk job, you are spending a lot of time at your desk. A way to counteract being sedentary at your desk is to move frequently. If you are at a desk job, you can stand up on your feet and/or walk once an hour for five minutes. This sitting engages large skeletal muscles and, when consistently performed throughout the day, activates thousands of muscular contractions, the researchers note. Standing up more — no matter your age — is important, even if you have done a workout that day.
  4. Stretch! Stretching that targets your shoulders, spine, hips, and calves can fight chronic stiffness that plays into mobility losses in older adults. Stretching — both with static (bend and hold) stretches as well as dynamic (flowy) ones — is a super opportunity to move your joints in ways they otherwise might not all too regularly. Many yoga workouts also include a flexibility and mobility component.

However you decide to bend and stretch, concentrate on challenging yourself, but do this without pain.

Pushing yourself too hard into stretches may damage your joints and contribute to injury.

Remember that the goal is to feel a gentle, pleasant stretch in your muscles. If it does not feel good, listen to your body and pull back a bit or totally avoid that stretch.

Reference: Livestrong (Jan. 20, 2022) “Why Your Mobility Worsens As You Age, and What to Do About It”

How to File Tax Return When Mom Passes Away

If you are preparing a 1040 federal income tax form for a spouse or parent, you are grieving while also gathering tax records. If you are the executor for an estate, you may not know the history of the decedent’s tax situation nor have the access you need to important documents. To help alleviate the problems, AARP’s January 27th article entitled, “How to File a Tax Return for a Deceased Taxpayer,” gives some guidance on how a decedent’s tax return might be different from the usual 1040 form, as well as the pitfalls to avoid as you prepare to file.

  1. Marital filing status. A surviving spouse should file a joint return for the year of death and write in the signature area “filing as surviving spouse.” The spouse also can file jointly for the next two tax years if he or she has dependents and has not remarried. This special provision gives the surviving spouse benefit from the advantages of a joint return, such as the higher standard deduction.
  2. Get authorization to file. If there is no surviving spouse, someone must be chosen to file the tax return. This could be the estate’s executor if there was a will, the estate administrator if there is not a will, or anyone responsible for managing the decedent’s property. To prepare the return — or provide necessary information to an accountant — you will need to access the decedent’s financial records, and financial institutions usually want to see a copy of the certified death certificate before releasing information.
  3. Locate last year’s return. That is your starting point. Returns filed electronically must have the password to sign into the software program that was used. A major step in estate planning is, therefore, to give passwords to a trusted person or instructions about how to access that information after your death. However, if you cannot find last year’s return, submit Form 4506-T to the IRS to request a transcript of the previous tax return. This shows what was on the return, including filing status, taxable income, tax payments and more. The IRS also can provide source documents, such as a W-2 or a 1099-INT from a bank or a 1099-R for a pension distribution from a union — all the documents sent to the IRS on your behalf — which can help you know what documents to collect now.
  4. Update the address on the return. If you are not a surviving spouse or did not live with the decedent, be sure to update the tax return to list your address as an “in care of” address, so anything from the IRS will come directly to you.
  5. Review medical costs. The deduction for medical expenses is the amount that exceeds 7.5% of adjusted gross income. If the decedent was chronically ill, medical expenses can add up. Hospital stays, nursing homes, prescriptions and care from aides can add up and hit that threshold.
  6. Get extra time to file and/or make payments. The executor or surviving spouse can request an extension and estimate what any tax liability might be. The IRS may also give you a break on penalties for not filing because you were dealing with funeral arrangements, for example, but you have to cite a reasonable cause.
  7. Cut down the IRS’ time to assess taxes. The IRS has three years to decide if you have paid the right amount for that tax year. You can cut that to 18 months, by filing Form 4810. That is a request for a prompt assessment of tax. As you prepare the return, you may miss a 1099 or other document, unintentionally understating income. If you skip filing Form 4810, the IRS could notify you of taxes owed up to three years later, likely after you have distributed the estate’s funds.
  8. You may be filing multiple returns. If someone dies in January or February, you may be responsible for filing the tax return for last year and this year. There might be a filing obligation for that brief period of time that the person was alive in this year. The other situation is that the decedent failed to file a previous year’s return, perhaps because he or she was very ill. A notice will be sent from the IRS stating that they do not have a copy of the decedent’s return. This is another reason it is important to file Form 4810, requesting that the IRS has only 18 months to assess tax. You do not want any surprises. A tax return, or Form 1041, also may need to be filed for the estate, if it has earned more than $600. Since it can take a long time to wind down an estate and pay heirs, a Form 1041 may need to be filed the following year, too — a healthy brokerage account could generate more than $600 income for the year. It may also take a long time to distribute the estate.
  9. Estate taxes. An estate tax return, Form 706, must be filed if the gross estate of the decedent is valued at more than $12.06 million for 2022 or $11.7 million for 2021. However, that is a high threshold.
  10. Consider hiring an attorney. If all this sounds like it is too much, ask an attorney for help. A legal professional will know what information is required.

Reference: AARP (Jan. 27, 2022) “How to File a Tax Return for a Deceased Taxpayer”