Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

What are Most Costly Mistakes with Social Security?

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “5 Social Security Oversights That Could Cost You Thousands” says that these five Social Security mistakes could cost you thousands in your retirement.

  1. Claiming Social Security early while you’re still working. You can claim your Social Security retirement benefit as young as age 62, but your benefits will be permanently reduced when compared with the amount you would receive if you waited until your full retirement age. Social Security will also penalize you for continuing to work while collecting benefits, if you are younger than your full retirement age.
  2. Failing to claim Social Security by your 70th birthday. Once you hit age 62, your benefit increases the longer you wait to claim, until you reach 70. You don’t have to claim your benefit by your 70th birthday, but there is no more benefit for waiting at that point.
  3. Delaying past your full retirement age to claim Social Security spousal benefits. If you’re claiming Social Security benefits based on your own income record, it’s smart to wait past your full retirement age to start taking benefits. However, if you’re claiming based on your spouse’s benefits, there’s no benefit to delay beyond your full retirement age to claim. As a result, married couples of similar ages who have vastly different earned incomes have a dilemma: for you to claim spousal benefits, your spouse also has to have begun claiming benefits based on his or her own earnings record. This combination makes it less worthwhile for the primary breadwinner spouse to wait to collect benefits, if the spouse is expecting to take spousal benefits.
  4. Taxes on Social Security benefits are not adjusted for inflation. Originally, Social Security benefits weren’t taxed. However, in 1984, the government started taxing Social Security benefits once a person’s combined income reached $25,000. Even now, the income level where Social Security starts to get taxed is still at $25,000. Because there is no adjustment for inflation, this makes more of people’s Social Security income taxable. This easily costs even moderate-income retirees thousands of dollars of spendable income over the course of their retirements.
  5. “Tax free” income counts toward making Social Security taxable. Even traditionally tax-free sources of income, like the interest from in-state municipal bonds, is included in the calculations to see how much of your Social Security will be considered taxable. Therefore, seniors who own tax free municipal bonds as part of their retirement portfolio may be surprised to find that those bonds are what’s causing their Social Security to be taxed. Seniors who find themselves in that situation may want to reevaluate their choice to be invested in those tax-free municipal bonds.

Despite how simple Social Security may appear, these five situations show how mistakes can cost thousands of dollars.

Reference: Motley Fool (March 14, 2021) “5 Social Security Oversights That Could Cost You Thousands”

Trusts can Work for ‘Regular’ People

A trust fund is an estate planning tool that can be used by anyone who wishes to pass their property to individuals, family members or nonprofits. They are used by wealthy people because they solve a number of wealth transfer problems and are equally applicable to people who aren’t mega-rich, explains this recent article from Forbes titled “Trust Funds: They’re Not Just For The Wealthy.”

A trust is a legal entity in the same way that a corporation is a legal entity. A trust is used in estate planning to own assets, as instructed by the terms of the trust. Terms commonly used in discussing trusts include:

  • Grantor—the person who creates the trust and places assets into the trust.
  • Beneficiary—the person or organization who will receive the assets, as directed by the trust documents.
  • Trustee—the person who ensures that the assets in the trust are properly managed and distributed to beneficiaries.

Trusts may contain a variety of property, from real estate to personal property, stocks, bonds and even entire businesses.

Certain assets should not be placed in a trust, and an estate planning attorney will know how and why to make these decisions. Retirement accounts and other accounts with named beneficiaries don’t need to be placed inside a trust, since the asset will go to the named beneficiaries upon death. They do not pass through probate, which is the process of the court validating the will and how assets are passed as directed by the will. However, there may be reasons to designate such accounts to pass to the trust and your attorney will advise you accordingly.

Assets are transferred into trusts in two main ways: the grantor transfers assets into the trust while living, often by retitling the asset, or by using their estate plan to stipulate that a trust will be created and retain certain assets upon their death.

Trusts are used extensively because they work. Some benefits of using a trust as part of an estate plan include:

Avoiding probate. Assets placed in a trust pass to beneficiaries outside of the probate process.

Protecting beneficiaries from themselves. Young adults may be legally able to inherit but that doesn’t mean they are capable of handling large amounts of money or property. Trusts can be structured to pass along assets at certain ages or when they reach particular milestones in life.

Protecting assets. Trusts can be created to protect inheritances for beneficiaries from creditors and divorces. A trust can be created to ensure a former spouse has no legal claim to the assets in the trust.

Tax liabilities. Transferring assets into an irrevocable trust means they are owned and controlled by the trust. For example, with a non-grantor irrevocable trust, the former owner of the assets does not pay taxes on assets in the trust during his or her life, and they are not part of the taxable estate upon death.

Caring for a Special Needs beneficiary. Disabled individuals who receive government benefits may lose those benefits, if they inherit directly. If you want to provide income to someone with special needs when you have passed, a Special Needs Trust (sometimes known as a Supplemental Needs trust) can be created. An experienced estate planning attorney will know how to do this properly.

Reference: Forbes (March 15, 2021) “Trust Funds: They’re Not Just For The Wealthy”

Dr. Seuss’ Controversy Impact on Estate?

It may surprise you to know exactly how profitable the estate of Dr. Seuss continues to be. Eighty years after the publication of his first children’s book — “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” which is among the works being discontinued — the author’s collection still makes a whole lot of money, says The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How Dr. Seuss became the second highest-paid dead celebrity.”

Forbes.com’s annual inventory of the highest-paid dead celebrities, Theodor Geisel —AKA “Dr. Seuss”— ranks second, only trailing Michael Jackson. The Seuss empire raked in earnings last year of $33 million. In other words, the Vipper of Vipp, Flummox and Fox in Sox generated a bushel-full of dough in 2020.

Add to this, the fact that because of the news that six of his 60+ books will no longer be published, buyers are scrambling to purchase his back catalog. This means more money for the good doctor, as evidenced by the fact that recently nine of the top 10 spots on Amazon’s best-sellers list were occupied by Dr. Seuss, including classics “The Cat in the Hat,” “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

The answer to how Dr. Suess’ estate has maintained a $33 million fortune 30 years after his death, is that it’s his wife’s doing. Geisel died in 1991 at the age of 87. Two years after that, Audrey Geisel, founded Dr. Seuss Enterprises to handle licensing and film deals for her husband’s work.

She passed away in 2018, but Dr. Seuss Enterprises is still going strong. It’s shrewdly built the Seuss brand with kids’ merchandise and several television and film projects, notably the animated “Green Eggs and Ham” series, which debuted on Netflix in 2019, starring Michael Douglas, Keegan-Michael Key and Diane Keaton.

Past Seuss projects include Jim Carrey’s “The Grinch” in 2000; Mike Myers’s mediocre “The Cat in the Hat” in 2003, “Horton Hears a Who!” in 2008; not to mention the 2001 Broadway bomb “Seussical.”

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (March 9, 2021) “How Dr. Seuss became the second highest-paid dead celebrity”

What Is Family Business Succession Planning?

The importance of the family business in the U.S. can’t be overstated. Neither can the problems that occur as a direct result of a failure to plan for succession. Business succession planning is the development of a plan for determining when an owner will retire, what position in the company they will hold when they retire, who the eventual owners of the company will be and under what rules the new owners will operate, instructs a recent article, “Succession planning for family businesses” from The Times Reporter. An estate planning attorney plays a pivotal role in creating the plan, as the sale of the business will be a major factor in the family’s wealth and legacy.

  • Start by determining who will buy the business. Will it be a long-standing employee, partners, or family members?
  • Next, develop an advisory team of internal employees, your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor and insurance agent.
  • Have a financial evaluation of the business prepared by a qualified and accredited valuation professional.
  • Consider taxes (income, estate and gift taxes) and income requirements to sustain the owner’s current lifestyle, if the business is being sold outright.
  • Review estate planning strategies to reduce income and estate tax liabilities.
  • Examine the financial impact of the sale on the family member, if a non-family member buys the business.
  • Develop the structure of the sale.
  • Create a timeline.
  • Get started on all of the legal and financial documents.
  • Meet with the family and/or the new owner on a regular basis to ensure a smooth transition.

Selling a business to the next generation or a new owner is an emotional decision, which is at the heart of most business owner’s utter failure to create a plan. The sale forces them to confront the end of their role in the business, which they likely consider their life’s work. It also requires making decisions that involve family members that may be painful to confront.

The alternative is far worse for all concerned. If there is no plan, chances are the business will not survive. Without leadership and a clear path to the future, the owner may witness the destruction of their life’s work and a squandered legacy.

Speak with your estate planning attorney and your accountant, who will have had experience helping business owners create and execute a succession plan. Talking about such a plan with family members can often create an emotional response. Working with professionals who benefit from a lack of emotional connection to the business will help the process be less about feelings and more about business.

Reference: The Times Reporter (March 7, 2021) “Succession planning for family businesses”

Does Zinc or Vitamin C Fight COVID?

New research shows that if you take either zinc or vitamin C (ascorbic acid) (or a combination of the two), it doesn’t dramatically reduce the severity or the duration of symptoms associated with COVID-19, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Money Talk News’ recent article entitled “These 2 Supplements Don’t Curb COVID-19 Danger After All” reports that these findings were recently published in the American Medical Association’s journal JAMA Network Open.

In the past, there had been some thought that vitamins and supplements like zinc and vitamin C might provide some benefits to people hoping to avoid or treat COVID-19.

Zinc can help immune function, and the mineral plays a part in antibody and white blood cell production. Zinc is also known to fight infections. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that decreases the damage to cells and boosts the immune system.

However, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that among 214 adult patients known to have COVID-19, taking 10 days of zinc gluconate (50 milligrams per day) or vitamin C (8,000 milligrams over the course of each day), or a combination, had no impact on the amount of time it took for their symptoms to subside, compared to patients receiving standard care.

That is actually why the study was stopped early.

In an announcement, Dr. Milind Desai, director of clinical operations in Cleveland Clinic’s Heart Vascular and Thoracic Institute and co-principal investigator of the study, commented:

“As we watched the pandemic spread across the globe, infecting and killing millions, the medical community and consumers alike scrambled to try supplements that they believed could possibly prevent infection, or ease COVID-19 symptoms. However, the research is just now catching up. While vitamin C and zinc proved ineffective as a treatment when clinically compared to standard care, the study of other therapeutics continues.”

The researchers at the Cleveland Clinic also saw that the patients in the study who were getting outpatient care rather than being treated in a hospital (like those who contract COVID-19 but don’t need hospitalization) are more likely to decline supplements.

The study participants also had an average age of about 45 years, and about 62% were women.

Reference: Money Talk News (Feb. 15, 2021) “These 2 Supplements Don’t Curb COVID-19 Danger After All”

The Latest on the Denver Broncos and Late Owner Pat Bowlen’s Trust

The Denver Post’s recent article entitled “Broncos ask Denver County District Court to confirm right-of-first-refusal is terminated” says that the battle over the Denver Broncos football team is far from over, and what Pat Bowlen intended in his trust may not come to pass.

After Pat Bowlen died in 2019 at age 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, his two oldest daughters placed themselves at risk of being disinherited by challenging their father’s trust. The trust is tasked with choosing the next controlling owner of the Denver Broncos, a pro football franchise valued at more than $2.5 billion.

“This lawsuit is a proactive, necessary step to ensure an efficient transition of ownership, whether the team remains in the Bowlen family or is sold,” long-time Bowlen attorney Dan Reilly said in a statement. “We are confident that the court will find the right of first refusal is no longer enforceable, consistent with Colorado law and the intentions of Pat Bowlen and Edgar Kaiser in their written agreement more than 36 years ago.”

So, if the Broncos’ next controlling owner is Pat’s daughter Brittany, the preferred choice of the trustees, or if the team is sold to an outside buyer, they should be able to move forward without interference from Kaiser’s camp. Kaiser died in January 2012.

Even if this lawsuit drags on, it will not cause a delay in the Arapahoe County District Court battle between Bowlen’s daughters Beth Bowlen Wallace and Amie Klemmer and the trustees who want to invalidate the 2009 trust on the grounds that Pat did not have the capacity to sign his estate-planning documents.

This part of the Broncos ownership soap opera began in May 2020, when an attorney sent the Broncos counsel a letter stating that his client be sent “notice,” if the team named a new controlling owner or was sold. When Kaiser sold 60.8% of the Broncos to Bowlen in 1984, a right of first refusal was included in the agreement. A year later, Bowlen bought the other 39.2% from John Adams and Tim Borden for $20 million.

In 1998, Bowlen offered retired quarterback John Elway the chance to buy 10% of the team for $15 million. However, Kaiser opposed, saying Bowlen had to offer any piece of the Broncos to him before he offered it to another party. The courts ruled in Bowlen’s favor, even though Elway didn’t take him up on the offer. The court said the right of first refusal only applied to the 60.8% ownership interest that Pat purchased from Kaiser. However, Pat’s win didn’t totally eliminate the right of first refusal, which gave Kaiser 14 days to decide whether to buy the team if Bowlen found a buyer.

Reference: Denver Post (Jan. 26, 2021) “Broncos ask Denver County District Court to confirm right-of-first-refusal is terminated”

Sound Like a Broken Record in Estate Planning?

After a year like the last, estate planning attorneys may sound like a broken record, repeating their message over and over again: No matter your age, wealth, or familial structure, you should have a last will and testament, powers of attorney and a health care proxy.

Everyone needs these documents, to protect wealth, children, spouses, family and yourself.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “2020 Concludes With Intestate Celebrity Estates” says that the execution of legal documents does have a financial cost. This can keep some people from talking to an experienced estate planning attorney. Others say they are simply too busy to take care of the matter, so they delay. There are other people don’t want to talk about issues of sickness and mortality because they just can’t bring themselves to think about these important estate planning documents.

It doesn’t matter who you are, these types of issues are seen with all kinds of people. Recently, we’ve learned that several celebrities died intestate or without a last will and testament. For example, Argentinian soccer great Diego Armando Maradona died in November at the age of 60. He had a fortune including real estate, financial assets and jewelry, but his life was filled with drama. Diego fathered eight children from six different partners but signed no last will and testament. Fighting among his many heirs is expected, especially with his large estate. Diego said publicly that he wanted to donate his entire estate and not leave his children anything. However, he died of a heart attack before putting this plan in place. Therefore his next-of-kin, not the charities, received his assets.

Another notable person who died intestate recently is former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who died at age 46. His estate is valued at $840 million. Hsieh was survived by his two brothers and his parents. He recently purchased eight houses in Park City, Utah, so this purchase of real estate across state lines will make the administration of his estate even more complicated without a last will and testament or a trust.

Finally, actor Chadwick Boseman died intestate at age 43, after a long battle with colon cancer. His wife, Simone Ledward, petitioned the California courts to be named the administrator of his estate. The couple married in early 2020. As a result, she was qualified to administer and receive from his estate. He had no children, so under California probate law, she gets the entire estate.

These recent deaths of three celebrities, none of whom were elderly, show the need for individuals of all ages, backgrounds and wealth to address their estate plans and not put it off.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 19, 2020) “2020 Concludes With Intestate Celebrity Estates”

Tips for Caregiving during the Pandemic

The Harvard Health Letter provides some great tips in its recent article entitled “Caregiving during the pandemic” to make certain that a loved one is receiving the best care.

Direct Communication. If your elderly family member can communicate well, talk to them daily and remember that when you ask basic questions like “How are you feeling?” “Are you eating and drinking enough?” “Are you getting enough sleep?” However, that you may not get a straight answer. They may just tell you what you want to hear. Therefore, try to get a more realistic picture. Listen to how they sound on the call, and see if they sound different, sad, confused, or tired. Ask them how they’ve been spending their time and who they’ve seen that day. Look for clues that they may be getting sick.

Speak with The Staff. Ask questions. Start with the director of nursing or a caseworker. You can tell the staff you’re worried and that you may be asking more questions than usual. Find out how often they’re able to give you updates and have a list of questions that includes the following aspects of your loved one’s health and well-being.

  • Socialization. Ask if your family member is participating in activities or just staying in their room most of the time. If they’re not getting out, ask about a plan to get them back into a healthy social and physical routine.
  • Does the staff feel your senior is in generally good spirits, or is there an issue? Is this impacting their health or daily activities?
  • Physical Strength. Is your parent having difficulty rising from a chair or feeling unsteady when walking? Inactivity can diminish muscle strength and cause falls. Get them into an exercise routine or physical therapy.
  • Eating Habits. Are they eating and drinking enough, and what is the staff doing to encourage nutrition and hydration? A change in eating and drinking habits can mean a change in mood and should be addressed by a doctor.
  • Have any medications been added or eliminated recently, and for what reason?
  • Continence. Ask if your senior is able to get to the bathroom on time. If they’re incontinent, what’s the plan to deal with this issue?
  • Hygiene. Is your elderly loved one is able to bathe, brush his or her teeth and do other bathroom activities? If not, ask how often the staff is providing assistance.
  • Cognitive Skills. Ask if there’s been any change in your loved one’s ability to reason or have a conversation. In some cases, it might be linked to something fixable, like medication side effects or a urinary tract infection.

If You Find an Issue. Inform the staff about your concerns, especially if you suspect a new problem. Arrange a visit with a physician and try to be on the call if possible.

Social interaction is also important, so encourage loved ones to take part in activities at their facility. In the same fashion, try to connect with your loved one in any way possible. Make frequent visits if they’re allowed, drop off a care package, a card, flowers, or a picture from a grandchild. This is the best way to stave off feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many people in facilities experience.

Reference: Harvard Health Letter (March 2021) “Caregiving during the pandemic”

Does Blackjack Keep My Brain Sharp?

People who regularly play non-digital games, like card or board games, have been found to do better on memory and thinking tests in their 70s than those who don’t.

That’s according to a recent study from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The Money Talk News article from April 2020 entitled “This Pastime Can Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age” reports that there’s even better news: Those who suddenly increased game playing during their 70s also were more likely to maintain certain cognitive skills.

So, break out Monopoly or get some people together to play bridge or blackjack!

For the long-term study, which was published in The Journals of Gerontology, psychologists tested more than 1,000 people born in 1936 beginning at age 70 in skills such as memory, problem-solving, thinking speed and general thinking ability.

Researchers repeated the tests every three years, until the study participants were 79. At two ages — 70 and 76 — the participants also reported how frequently they played non-digital games, such as bingo, cards, chess or crosswords.

Those who played more games later in life saw less decline in thinking skills from age 70 to 79.

This protective effect was especially evident in memory function and thinking speed.

The researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland noted that their findings were just the latest in a collection of evidence that supports a connection between engaging in activities throughout life and better thinking ability in old age.

In a university announcement about the study, co-author Ian Deary says:

“It would be good to find out if some of these games are more potent than others. We also point out that several other things are related to better cognitive aging, such as being physically fit and not smoking.”

So, chess anyone?

Reference: Money Talk News (April 23, 2020) “This Pastime Can Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age”