Estate Planning Blog Articles

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What’s the Criticism of the New Alzheimer’s Drug?

Three members of the FDA panel overseeing research have resigned since the approval this week, including Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who said in a letter the agency’s decision on Biogen “was probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history.”

CNBC’s article entitled “Biogen Alzheimer’s drug and the battle over dementia treatment of the future” reports that last November, in an 8-1 vote, that panel said Biogen’s late-stage study didn’t provide “strong evidence” showing that aducanumab effectively treated Alzheimer’s; two other panelists said that the data was “uncertain.”

While some experts see Aduhelm an “effective treatment” for a disease that affects millions of Americans, others have concerns about the FDA ruling’s implications for the panoply of other potential treatment options that are in late-stage development.

An immediate challenge facing other researchers working on a wider Alzheimer’s drug pipeline will be to keep participants in ongoing trials. In most cases, many Alzheimer’s sufferers will quit other drug studies to pursue treatment with the newly approved Aduhelm. This will make the trial data for those alternative drugs less useful, even though the drugs in question might one day prove safer, more effective, or more appropriate for different stages of the disease’s progression. Nonetheless, Aduhelm’s approval is seen by many as a big boost towards those efforts.

Some major drug companies stopped efforts to research brain diseases, including Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim in 2018. Biogen had given up on Aduhelm at one time in the clinical trials in 2019 before reversing its decision. This was after decades of failure in search of a breakthrough.

The National Institutes of Health spent two to three times more on heart disease and cancer research than on dementia in recent years, while a lack of qualified participants for clinical trials also slowed progress.

Aduhelm’s clinical trial data demonstrated that the drug successfully targets and clears out clusters of a specific type of protein that are thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s. However, it gave insufficient evidence to prove the drug provides patients with cognitive benefits. Known among scientists as aducanumab, it works by offering an array of identical antibodies that are cloned from white blood cells. These antibodies are chosen for their targeting abilities, since they can identify specific proteins, called beta amyloids, that have constructed particular formations in the body. There’s extensive evidence suggesting that these beta amyloid formations, also known as “pathological aggregates” or “plaques,” are a major driver of Alzheimer’s disease, though the exact causal mechanisms are still not fully understood.

“What we’re going to find out from the use of this drug one way or the other, is whether or not the amyloid clearing hypothesis is correct,” says USC health economist Darius Lakdawalla, who argues the continued trialing of Biogen’s drug will prove useful to that confirmatory effort.

“If it is correct, then I think it opens the door for a lot of innovation, a lot of drug candidates that are going to try to clear amyloid in the future pursuit of that hypothesis.”

Reference: CNBC (June 12, 2021) “Biogen Alzheimer’s drug and the battle over dementia treatment of the future”

What’s the Right Age to Start Estate Planning?

Okay, you just hit 40 and you’re thinking about what your life will be like now that you are middle-aged. You better start thinking about retirement.  Your children will need money to go to college one day.

So, you’re not even considering the possibility of estate planning because that’s something that you do when you’re old, like in your 60s, right?

Wrong, says Reality Biz News’ recent article entitled “When is the right time to consider estate planning?” While the life expectancy for the average American might be between 80 and 85, stuff happens, and so does death. You should be certain that your family is provided for, if you pass away unexpectedly.

It’s much easier to plan for the inevitable when you are young and healthy.  However, many people wait until they’re in the hospital to begin considering estate planning. Let’s look at some signs you should begin estate planning:

If you are in your twenties and living from paycheck to paycheck, it might not make much sense to plan for the distribution of your estate. Your bestie knows she’s getting your Beats, and your vintage records are going to your significant other. However, you should start planning your estate, when you begin saving money and making investments. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney, if you fall into one of these categories:

You have a savings account. If you have a savings account with a few thousand dollars, you might want to think about who you want the money to go to if you pass away.

Have you recently been married? If you recently wed (or divorced), you and your spouse will want to start making a plan for who will get your joint assets when you’re no longer around. If you’re divorced, you should remove your ex from your will.  If you don’t have a will, your property will go directly to your spouse when you die. However, there are a few exceptions, including the fact that you can leave a bank account to a payable on death beneficiary. This will avoid probate and have the funds in that account go directly to that designated beneficiary.

You have assets of over $100,000. If you have some significant savings, you should ask an experienced estate planning attorney about creating a trust for anyone who may be dependent upon you.

You want to travel. Before you plan your ascent of Mount Everest, update your will. If you have minor children, you will want to nominate a guardian for them, in the event that you fall off the mountain and do not return.

You own property. If you own a house, a car, a boat, or other real estate but aren’t married and have no children, make a will. That way you can leave those assets to whomever you want.

Reference: Reality Biz News (April 23, 2021) “When is the right time to consider estate planning?”

What are the Most Popular Estate Planning Scams?

The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Beware of These Common Estate Planning Scams” advises you to avoid these common estate planning scams.

  1. Cold Calls Offering to Prepare Estate Plans. Scammers call and email purporting to be long lost relatives who’ve had their wallets stolen and are stranded in a foreign country. Seniors fall prey to this and will pay for estate planning documents. Any cold call from someone asking that money be wired to a bank account, in exchange for estate planning documents should be approached with great skepticism.
  2. Paying for Estate Planning Templates. For a one-time fee, some scammers will offer estate planning documents that may be downloaded and modified by an individual. While this may look like a great deal, avoid using these pro forma templates to draft individual estate plans. Such templates are rarely tailored to meet state-specific requirements and often fail to incorporate contingencies that are necessary for a comprehensive and complete estate plan. Instead, work with an experienced estate planning attorney.
  3. Not Requiring an Estate Plan. Although less of a scheme, somepeople think they do not need an estate plan. However, proper estate planning entails deciding who can make health care and financial decisions during life, in the event of incapacity. These documents help to minimize the need for family members to petition the Probate Court in certain situations.
  4. Paying High Legal Fees. Like many things in life, with an estate plan, you may get what you pay for. Paying money upfront to have your intentions memorialized in writing can minimize the expense. Heirs should be on guard if an attorney hired to administer an estate is charging exorbitant fees for what looks to be a well-prepared estate plan. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion in these situations.
  5. Signing Estate Planning Documents You Don’t Understand. Estate planning documents are designed to prepare for potential incapacity and for death. It is critical that your estate planning documents represent your intentions. However, if you don’t read them or don’t understand what you’ve read, you will have no idea if your goals are accomplished. Make certain that you understand what you’re signing. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to explain these documents to you clearly and will make sure that you understand each of them before you sign.

You can avoid these common scams, by establishing a relationship with an experienced attorney you trust.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 7, 2021) “Beware of These Common Estate Planning Scams”

What Taxes are Due When Children Inherit Home?

The first issue to address is whether the will addresses how inheritance taxes will be paid, says nj.com recent article entitled “My adult kids inherited a home. What taxes are due?” The mortgage may say the estate itself will pay it before anything is paid out to beneficiaries, or it may not mention anything.

Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are the only states that impose an inheritance tax, which is a tax on what you receive as the beneficiary of an estate.

Maryland is the one state that has both an inheritance tax and an estate tax. Its inheritance tax is up to 10%. As to the others, Nebraska’s inheritance tax can be as high as 18%. Kentucky and New Jersey both taxes inheritances at up to 16%. Iowa’s inheritance tax is up to 15%, as is Pennsylvania’s.

Spouses and certain other heirs are usually excluded by the state from paying inheritance taxes.

A child may have an issue if there’s not enough liquidity in the estate, separate from the house to pay the taxes. If the beneficiaries plan to keep the home, they’d need to take an additional mortgage.  They’d also need to find enough cash to pay the inheritance taxes due.

In the example above, if the deed is transferred to a niece and nephew, the executor should hire a licensed real estate appraiser and pay for a date of death appraisal on the property. That appraisal will determine how much capital gains was exempted at the sister’s passing. It will also establish a new basis for capital gains purposes for the niece and nephew.

If the heirs simply do nothing and move into the house, the inheritance tax will come due. In New Jersey, it’s due eight months from the date of death.

If the inheritance tax isn’t paid, liability for the unpaid tax will attach to the executor personally, often in the form of a certificate of debt attached to some asset belonging to the executor, like his or her house.

To make sure this is handled correctly, consider speaking to an experienced estate planning attorney, who can walk you through the process.

Reference: nj.com (June 14, 2021) “My adult kids inherited a home. What taxes are due?”

Fraudsters Continue to Target Elderly

The National Council on Aging reports that seniors lose an estimated $3 billion to financial scams, which is the worst possible time in life to lose money. There’s simply no time to replace the money. Why scammers target the elderly is easy to understand, as reported in the article “Scam Alert: 4 Types of Fraud That Target the Elderly (and How to Beat Them)” from Kiplinger. People who are 50 years and older hold 83% of the wealth in America, and households headed by people 70 years and up have the highest median net worth. That is where the money is.

The other factor: seniors were raised to mind their manners. An older American may feel it’s rude to hang up on a fast-talking scammer, who will take advantage of their hesitation. Lonely seniors are also happy to talk with someone. Scammers also target widows or divorced older women, thinking they are more vulnerable.

Here are the most common types of scams today:

Imposter scams. The thief pretends to be someone you can trust to trick you into giving them your personal information like a password, access to a bank account or Social Security number. This category includes phone calls pretending to be from the Social Security Administration or the IRS. They often threaten arrest or legal action. Neither the IRS nor the SSA ever call people to ask for personal information. Hang up!

Medicare representative. A person calls claiming to be a representative from Medicare to get older people to provide personal information. Medicare won’t call to ask for your Social Security number or to obtain bank information to give you new benefits. Phone scammers are able to “spoof” their phone numbers—what may appear on your caller ID as a legitimate office is not actually a call coming from the agency. Before you give any information, hang up. If you have questions, call Medicare yourself.

Lottery and sweepstakes scams. These prey on the fear of running out of money during retirement. These scams happen by phone, email and snail mail, congratulating the recipient with news that they have won a huge lottery or sweepstakes, but the only way to access the prize is by paying a fee. The scammers might even send a paper check to cover the cost of the fee, but that check will bounce. Once you’ve sent the fee money, they’ll pocket it and be gone.

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? Conversations between generations about money become even more important as we age. If an elderly parent talks up a new friend who is going to help them, a red flag should go up. If they are convinced that they are getting a great deal, or a windfall of money from a contest, talk with them about how realistic they are being. Make sure they know that the IRS, Medicare and Social Security does not call to ask for personal information.

For those who have not been able to see elderly parents because of the pandemic, this summer may reveal a lot of what has occurred in the last year. If you are concerned that they have been the victims of a scam, start by filing a report with their state’s attorney general office.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 10, 2021) “Scam Alert: 4 Types of Fraud That Target the Elderly (and How to Beat Them)”

Will Medicaid Come after My Mom’s Estate?

It’s very confusing when the estate recovery process begins with Medicaid, says nj.com’s recent article entitled “When will Medicaid recover funds from this estate?”

Under federal and state laws, the state Medicaid program is required to recover funds from the estates of Medicaid recipients who were 55 years of age or older at the time they received Medicaid benefits. This can be nursing facility services, home and community-based services and related hospital and prescription drug services. States have the option to recover payments for all other Medicaid services provided to these individuals, except Medicare cost-sharing paid on behalf of Medicare Savings Program beneficiaries.

In some situations, the money left in a trust after a Medicaid enrollee has passed away, may also be used to reimburse Medicaid. However, states can’t recover from the estate of a deceased Medicaid enrollee who’s survived by a spouse, child under age 21, or blind or disabled child of any age. States also must establish procedures for waiving estate recovery, when recovery would cause an undue hardship.

States may also impose liens for Medicaid benefits incorrectly paid pursuant to a court judgment.

States can impose liens on real property during the lifetime of a Medicaid enrollee who’s permanently institutionalized, except when one of the following individuals resides in the home:

  • a spouse
  • a child under age 21
  • a blind or disabled child of any age; or
  • a sibling who has an equity interest in the home.

States must remove the lien, when the Medicaid enrollee is discharged from the facility and returns home.

Note that any property that belonged to the deceased Medicaid recipient at the time of their death is subject to estate recovery, even when that property was owned jointly or individually.

Therefore, Medicaid postpones estate recovery, if there is a surviving spouse or a surviving child who is under the age of 21, or is blind or permanently and totally disabled in accordance with the Social Security definition of disability.

Given that the father in this case passed away in February 2020 with a surviving spouse, Medicaid will postpone estate recovery until the mother dies.

Reference: nj.com (May 26, 2021) “When will Medicaid recover funds from this estate?

What are the Biggest Blunders Made in Retirement?

Retirement is supposed to be a time to enjoy the fruits from decades of labor, but managing your health care can feel like a whole new job, says Money Talk Newsrecent article entitled “5 Medicare Mistakes to Avoid for a Healthy Retirement.” This is no easy task because the official guide to Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily reserved for people age 65 and older, is roughly 120 pages. This means it is easy to make Medicare mistakes. You may pay extra, or a blunder could leave you with a gap in coverage. If you haven’t enrolled in Medicare but are almost 65, here are some mistakes that seniors who are already enrolled in Medicare can’t afford to make with their coverage:

  1. Not taking advantage of the “freebies.” Some medical services and products come at no charge for Medicare recipients—or recipients don’t have to pay anything extra, like a co-pay or meeting a deductible to take advantage of these freebies.
  2. Missing your annual chance to switch plans. Your plan’s coverage, costs and benefits can change every year. You have a chance during open enrollment to examine your options, make sure you’re still getting the best value and, if you want, switch your plan. During the open enrollment, it’s wise to consider the plans that are available and see what the cost will be in the coming year. You should also confirm that your favorite pharmacies, hospitals and medical providers still will accept your plan in the new year.

Before you do this open enrollment homework, however, it helps to review these resources:

  • gov and its Medicare Plan Finder
  • The latest annual “Medicare & You” handbook
  • Evidence of Coverage document; and
  • Plan Annual Notice of Change document.
  1. Losing in-network access. Remember that not all health care providers accept all Medicare coverage. As a result, if you go to a doctor who’s not in your plan network, you could see higher co-payments, or your insurer might refuse to pay any of the bill.
  2. Losing Medigap coverage. People with Original Medicare have the option to buy a supplemental policy from a private insurer, known as a Medigap policy, to cover some of the costs that Original Medicare doesn’t fully cover. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you can’t buy a Medigap policy. Therefore, if you decide to switch to a Medicare Advantage plan from Original Medicare with a Medigap plan, you’ll drop the Medigap plan. That can be risky. Only during your initial Medigap enrollment period (which is when you first became eligible to sign up for Medicare) are you guaranteed coverage by a Medigap plan. That is the only time when are insurance companies cannot deny you coverage or charge you extra due to pre-existing conditions. After that, insurers typically ask about your health status. Thus, based on your health and where you live, if you lose your initial Medigap coverage because you switched to Medicare Advantage, you could wind up paying a lot more for a Medigap policy, if you later decide to switch back to Original Medicare. You might even be prohibited from certain plans.
  3. A tax penalty for HSA contributions. If you contribute to your health savings account (HSA) while on Medicare, you may be penalized. You should stop making HSA contributions the month before your Medicare Part A coverage (which primarily covers inpatient hospital-related costs) begins, which can be as early as six months before you apply for Medicare or Social Security.

Reference: Money Talk News (June 7, 2021) “5 Medicare Mistakes to Avoid for a Healthy Retirement”

What Should I Do in Retirement?

Some people think of retirement as not who you are or where you are in life, but instead as the transition of your time and money. Think of it as a process you go through, and not your identity.

The transition for money is a transition from accumulating money to using it. With time, it is also a transition of reallocating the many hours every week you spent working.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Living a Life of Purpose after Retirement: 3 Action Steps to Take” explains that this distinction of what retirement means is an important one to make.

That’s because the default answer and mindset that “I’m retired” leaves people stuck. As a result, they don’t truly progress toward reinventing themselves. In effect, they’ve made retirement their new identity, which just seems odd considering when you say something is “retired” it often means that it’s no longer useful.

However, this may not be an accurate description for most successful people who’ve lived a life of purpose, who’ve gained valuable insight and wisdom from their life experiences and who’ve refined their talents and unique abilities over decades.

Therefore, the word “retirement” shouldn’t be a label used to describe who someone is. That’s because it’s not their identity. Instead, “retirement” is a term that is used to describe the transition a person is going through from one phase of life to another.

It’s significant because the success of your retirement transition is dependent upon the ease with which you understand this distinction and your ability to shift your mindset in the following three key areas.

Reinvent Yourself. Every day up until your retirement transition, you dedicated many hours each day to someone or something to earn a living. That manifested as a sense of purpose. However, when that time commitment goes away, so can that sense of purpose. Therefore, think about the transition of retirement as the transition to what’s next. It’s your chance to reinvent yourself and live out the second half of your life with purpose.

Reframe Your Mindset About Money. Many people envision a life of abundance for themselves or being able to leave a financial legacy for their children and grandchildren. However, measuring your financial success based solely on rate of return or how much money is in your bank account is the wrong measurement. Instead, it should be on how much income you can generate from your assets that’s consistent and predictable. This income from your assets gives you freedom to dedicate your talents to pursue your purpose.

Reframe Your Mindset of Time. Have the choice to imagine your own future, and when you change the time frame you are operating in, you change the way you think. This gives you the freedom to reframe your future and reprogram your thinking about how to live the second half of your life.

The key to a successful retirement transition is to reframe your mindset about money, focus on maximizing cash flow, expand your concept of time and reinvent your purpose in life.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2021) “Living a Life of Purpose after Retirement: 3 Action Steps to Take”

If I Buy a House, Should I have an Estate Plan?

There’s been an unprecedented surge in home sales during the pandemic. A recent National Association of Realtors report revealed that since July, existing home sales have increased year over year reaching a pandemic high of over 25% in October. Forbes’s recent article entitled “Pandemic Home Buyers: Have You Set Up Your Estate Plan?” asks the important question: How has this past year’s surge in home sales impacted estate planning?

Estate planning is a way to protect your assets and your loved ones, no matter your age or income level. If you place your home into a trust, you ensure that the ownership of your home will be properly and efficiently transferred to a loved one, if anything happens to you unexpectedly. If your home isn’t included in your estate plan, it will go through probate. However, consider the potential pitfalls of a trust:

  1. Creating a trust, when you really only need a will. If you have less than $150,000 in assets and you don’t own a home, a trust likely isn’t really needed.
  2. Thinking that you automatically have asset protection. A trust can help to avoid probate. So, an irrevocable trust may be the right option for people who really need true asset protection.
  3. Not taking trust administration into account. The trustee must do many tasks when the creator of the trust dies. These aren’t much different from what an executor does, but it can be extra work.

If you already have an estate plan, you should review your estate planning documents every three to five years. Moreover, purchasing a home should also make you revisit your documents. When doing a review, take a look at the terms of the trust. Make certain that you have your house referenced by address and that you transfer the house to your spouse by name.

Most mortgages have a “due on sale” clause. This means if you terminate your ownership of your home, you have to immediately pay back the mortgage proceeds to the bank. If you place your home in a revocable trust, it lets you smoothly transfer ownership to your beneficiary. This prevents the bank from demanding payment, and your beneficiary would keep making the mortgage payments after you’re gone. However, it may be prudent to contact the lender in advance of the transfer, if you want to be sure.

If you bought a home in the pandemic and have not placed it in a trust yet, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney sooner rather than later.

Reference: Forbes (June 2, 2021) “Pandemic Home Buyers: Have You Set Up Your Estate Plan?”

What to Leave In, What to Leave Out with Retirement Assets

Depending on your intentions for retirement accounts, they may need to be managed and used in distinctly different ways to reach the dual goals of enjoying retirement and leaving a legacy. It’s all explained in a helpful article from Kiplinger, “Planning for Retirement Assets in Your Estate Plan”.

Start by identifying goals and dig into the details. Do you want to leave most assets to your children or grandchildren? Has philanthropy always been important for you, and do you plan to leave large contributions to organizations or causes?

This is not a one-and-done matter. If your intentions, beneficiaries, or tax rules change, you’ll need to review everything to make sure your plan still works.

How accounts are titled and how assets will be passed can create efficient tax results or create tax liabilities. This needs to be aligned with your estate plan. Check on beneficiary designations, asset titles and other documents to make sure they all work together.

Review investments and income. If you’ve retired, pensions, annuities, Social Security and other steady sources of income may be supplemented from your taxable investments. Required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax deferred accounts are also part of the mix. Make sure you have enough income to cover regular and unanticipated medical, long term care or other expenses.

Once your core income has been determined, it may be wise to segregate any excess capital you intend to use for wealth transfer or charitable giving. Without being set apart from other accounts, these assets may not be managed as effectively for taxes and long-term goals.

Establish a plan for taxable assets. Children or individuals can be better off inheriting highly appreciable taxable investment accounts, rather than traditional IRAs. These types of accounts currently qualify for a step-up in cost basis. This step-up allows the beneficiary to sell the appreciated assets they receive as inheritance, without incurring capital gains.

Here’s an example: an heir receives 1,000 shares of a stock with a $20 per share cost basis valued at $120 per share at the time of the owner’s death. They will pay no capital gains taxes on the gain of $100 per share. However, if the same stock was sold while the retiree owner was living, the $100,000 gain in total would have been taxed. The post-death appreciation, if any, on such inherited assets, would be subject to capital gains taxes.

Retirees often try to preserve traditional IRAs and qualified accounts, while spending taxable accounts to take advantage of lower capital gains taxes as they take distributions. However, this sets heirs up for a big tax bill. Another strategy is to convert a portion of those assets to a Roth IRA and pay taxes now, allowing the assets to grow tax free for you and your heirs.

Segregate assets earmarked for charitable donations. If a charity is named as a beneficiary for a traditional IRA, the charity receives the assets tax free and the estate may be eligible for an estate deduction for federal and state estate taxes.

Your estate planning attorney can help you understand how to structure your assets to meet goals for retirement and to create a legacy. Saving your heirs from estate tax bills that could have been avoided with prior planning will add to their memories of you as someone who took care of the family.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 21, 2021) “Planning for Retirement Assets in Your Estate Plan”