Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

Will Social Security Get a Raise in 2022?

The COLA increase in Social Security is welcomed by seniors depending upon their benefits but the timing varies, says the article “Social Security Benefits Get a 5.9% Raise This Year–Here’s When You Should See That Extra Money” from the Lincoln Journal Star. Here’s what you can expect.

The first benefit check or automatic deposit should arrive with the 5.9% COLA. However, the timing depends upon your date of birth. If your birthday falls between the first and the 10th of the month, those benefits should arrive on the second Wednesday of the month, so by January 12, you’ve should have received your first Social Security benefit with the COLA.

What if your birthday is between the 11th and 20th of the month? Benefits should arrive by the third Wednesday of the month. That’s a raise on January 19.

And if your birthday is late in the month, between the 21st and 31st, expect your benefits on the fourth Wednesday of the month—that would be January 26.

A caveat—if you’re collecting Social Security but have not yet enrolled in Medicare, then you’ll see a monthly increase of 5.9%. However, if you’ve enrolled in Medicare Part B and pay premiums directly from your benefits, your increase will be less. This is the push me—pull you of Social Security COLAs.

Medicare Part B premiums have increased, from $148.50 in 2021 to $171.10 in 2022, a total increase of $21.60. So, while you may have hoped for a true 5.9% increase, subtract the COLA from your premium hike to see what monthly benefit you’ll really get.

The annual deductible for all Medicare Part B beneficiaries is $233 in 2022. That’s a $30 increase from the $203 annual deductible in 2021.

Yes, this is the biggest COLA increase in a long time, as we have been in a low inflation environment for a very long time. If possible, it would be wise to take your COLA increase and set it aside to create or enhance a financial cushion. However, when living costs for everything from food to gas keep going up, it’s simply not possible for most people to save.

The reason this year’s COLA was so large is because of the high inflation rates from the third quarter of 2021. If inflation had been less, so would have been the increase. We don’t know what the future of Social Security will be, or what future COLAs will be. However, if at all possible, building in a little security of your own is the best recommendation.

Reference: Lincoln Journal Star (Jan. 7, 2022) “Social Security Benefits Get a 5.9% Raise This Year–Here’s When You Should See That Extra Money”

How Do I Write a Will?

A poorly written or out-of-date will can be costly and ruin an otherwise well-planned estate. Yahoo Entertainment’s recent article entitled “11 Steps to Writing a Will” tells you how to get started and complete your will in 10 simple steps:

  1. Hire an Estate Planning Attorney. Individuals or families with relatively simple financial situations may be able to use an online, reputable software program to complete their wills. However, many situations require an estate planning attorney, such as blended families.
  2. Choose your Beneficiaries. A big mistake people make when planning their estate is failing to name or update beneficiaries on key accounts that work with the plans outlined in their wills. The beneficiary designation on an account supersedes the will, but it’s good to be consistent.
  3. Name an Executor. The executor is responsible for carrying out the wishes expressed in your will.
  4. Select a Guardian for Your Minor Children. It’s common to name multiple guardians, in case one of them named isn’t able to accept the responsibility of guardianship.
  5. Be Specific About Your Bequests. One of the most time-consuming aspects of creating a will can be deciding which assets to include and determining who will get what.
  6. Be Realistic About your Bequests. Practically consider how assets will be distributed. A big reason children stop speaking after a parent’s death is because of boilerplate language directing tangible assets, such as artwork or jewelry, to be divided equally among children.
  7. Attach a Letter of Last Instruction. You can attach an explanatory letter to your will that can serve as a personal way to say goodbye and also provide additional details about certain wishes.
  8. Sign the Will Properly. If you don’t, a will may be declared invalid. Witnesses must sign your will, and in many states, the witnesses can’t be under 18 and those who stand to inherit (“interested parties”).
  9. Keep Your Will in a Safe and Accessible Spot. Make certain that someone you trust knows where to find your will and other important papers and passwords to financial institutions.
  10. Review and Keep Your Up-to-date. Wills should be updated every five years or so, or sooner if you have a major life event, such as the birth or adoption of a new child or grandchild, a divorce, or the death of a spouse or parent.
  11. Add Other Important Estate Planning Documents. A will by itself may not meet all of your estate planning needs. A trust is another estate planning tool that lets you transfer assets when and how you want. A living will communicates your desires for medical treatment or a power of attorney that allows a third party to make financial and legal decisions, along with the will and should be your next step after writing your will.

Reference: Yahoo Entertainment (Jan. 4, 2022) “11 Steps to Writing a Will”

Can a Trust Be Created to Protect a Pet?

One of the goals of estate planning is to care for loved ones, particularly those who depend on us for care after we have passed on. Wills, trusts, life insurance and beneficiary designations are all used to provide support to people—but what about pets? There is something you can do to protect your furry companions, says a recent article from The Sentinel, “Elder Care: Estate planning for your furry friends.”

We love our pets, to the tune of $103.6 billion in expenditures in 2020, including everything from pet food, toys, bedding, veterinary care, grooming, training and even Renaissance style portraits of pets. Scientific studies have proven the emotional and physical advantages pet ownership confers, not to mention the unconditional love pets bring to the household. So why not protect your pets, as well as other family members?

Many people rely on informal agreements with good friends or family members to take care of Fluffy or Spice, if the owner dies or becomes sick to take care of their pet. Here’s the problem: these informal agreements are not binding. Even if you’ve left a certain sum of money to a person in your will and ask it to be used solely for the care and well-being of your pet, it’s not enforceable.

We know all things change. What if your chosen pet caretaker has a child or a new romance with someone with a deathly allergy to pet dander? Or if their pet, who always used to play well during your visits, won’t tolerate your beloved pet as a housemate?

The informal agreement won’t hold the person accountable, and the funds may be spent elsewhere.

A better option is to use a pet trust. These have been recognized in all fifty states as a lawful way to provide for your animal companion’s needs. A pet trust can be created to provide for your pet during your lifetime, as well as after you have passed, allowing for continuity of care if you become incapacitated and need someone else to have the resources and guidance to care for your pet.

A pet trust is a legal document, prepared by an estate planning attorney and usually includes financial accounts in the name of the trust. Note the pet does not own the trust (animals may not own property), nor do you as the creator of the trust (the grantor). The trust is a legal entity, managed by the trustee.

A few of the things you’ll need to consider before having a pet trust created:

Who is to be the pet’s guardian? Have more than one person in mind, in case the primary pet guardian cannot serve or changes their mind.

If all of your guardians end up unable or unwilling to serve, name a no-kill animal shelter or rescue organization to take your pet. They may require you to plan in advance to cover the cost of caring for your pet. Larger organizations may have a process for a charitable remainder trust (CRT) as part of this type of arrangement.

Give details about pet preferences. If they are AKC registered, use their formal name as well as their regular name. People often fail to use the correct name in legal documents, even for humans, which can lead to legal challenges.

Do you want the same person to serve as trustee, managing funds for the pet, as the guardian? This is a similar decision for naming a guardian for minor children. Sometimes the person who is wonderful with care, is not so skilled at handling finances.

Finally, include instructions about what should happen to the money left after the pet passes. It may be used as a thank you to the person who cared for your beloved companion, or a gift to an animal organization.

Reference: The Sentinel (Jan. 7, 2022) “Elder Care: Estate planning for your furry friends.”

Do We Know the Impact That Omicron Variant has Impact on Seniors?

Most research shows that the omicron variant produces mild symptoms among fully vaccinated adults and children. The Deseret News’ recent article entitled “It’s too early to see how the omicron variant affects the elderly” reports that thus far, anecdotal data and case reports suggest the omicron variant creates severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalizations in unvaccinated adults and unvaccinated children.

Dr. Abdi Mahamud, the WHO’s incident manager for COVID-19, said it’s still unknown exactly how the omicron variant will affect the elderly, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. It could be similar to vaccinated adults, by producing mild symptoms. However, it’s not clear so far.

“We all want this disease to be milder, but the population it affected so far is the younger. How it behaves in the elderly population, the vulnerable — we don’t know yet,” Mahamud said

“It’s too early to determine,” Mahamud said. “We’re optimistic, but I think we shouldn’t over-interpret the data coming from South Africa.”

Evidence currently suggests that the variant offers symptoms similar to the common cold. Experts still recommend that everyone receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots, as well as a COVID-19 test, if symptoms develop.

In addition, The Kansas City Star reports that doctors at the University of Kansas Health System say that the highly contagious omicron variant poses a risk to senior citizens in the Kansas City area and beyond. They echo the WHO’s advice to get a booster shot.

They say it’s especially critical for older adults to avoid the worst effects of the virus.

“[Seniors] are going to be the folks who struggle the most with omicron because their immune systems may not have the same memory, they may not have the same ability to respond back,” said Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System at a briefing on Wednesday. “So omicron can be especially a threat.”

In December, the New York Times reported that one in every 100 of the nation’s seniors has died of COVID-19. Despite being one of the most vaccinated age groups, adults 65+ comprise roughly 75% of all pandemic deaths in the U.S.

“That is a staggering thing to say out loud as someone who has practiced medicine for 35 years,” said the University of Kansas’ Stites.

Reference: Deseret News (Dec. 30, 2021) “It’s too early to see how the omicron variant affects the elderly”

What Power Does an Executor Have?

Being asked to serve as an executor is a big compliment with potential pitfalls, advises the recent article “How to Prepare to Be an Executor of an Estate” from U.S. News & World Report. You are being asked because you are considered trustworthy and able to handle complex tasks. That’s flattering, of course, but there’s a lot to know before making a final decision about taking on the job.

An executor of an estate helps file paperwork, close accounts, distribute assets of the deceased, deal with probate and any court filings and navigate family dynamics. Some of the tasks include:

  • Locating critical documents, like the will, any trusts, deeds, vehicle titles, etc.
  • Obtaining death certificates.
  • Overseeing funeral arrangements and memorial services, if any.
  • Filing the will in probate court.
  • Creating an estate bank account, after obtaining an estate tax number (EIN).
  • Notifying organizations, including Social Security, pension accounts, etc.
  • Paying creditors.
  • Distributing assets.
  • Overseeing the sale or transfer of real estate
  • Filing estate tax returns and final tax returns.

If you are asked to become the executor of an estate for a loved one, it’s a good idea to gather as much information as possible while the person is still living. It will be far easier to tackle the tasks, if you have been set up to succeed. Find out where their estate planning documents are and read the documents to make sure you understand them. If you don’t understand, ask, and keep asking until you do. Similarly, obtain information about all assets, including joint assets. Find out if there are any family members who may pose a challenge to the estate.

Today’s assets include digital assets. Ask for a complete list of the person’s online accounts, usernames and passwords. You will also need access to their devices: desktop computer, laptop, tablet, phone and smart watch. Discuss what they want to happen to each account and see if there is an option for you to become a co-owner of the account or a legacy contact.

Many opt to have an estate planning attorney manage some or all of these tasks, as they can be very overwhelming. Frankly, it’s hard to administer an estate at the same time you’re grieving the loss of a loved one.

As executor, you are a fiduciary, meaning you’re legally required to put the deceased’s interests above your own. This includes managing the estate’s assets. If the person owned a home, you would need to secure the property, pay the mortgage and/or property taxes and maintain the property until it is sold or transferred to an heir. Financial accounts need to be managed, including investment accounts.

The amount of time this process will take, depends on the complexity and size of the estate. Most estates take at least twelve months to complete all of the administrative work. It is a big commitment and can feel like a second job.

A few things vary by state. Convicted felons are never permitted to serve as executors, regardless of what the will says. A sole executor must be a U.S. citizen, although a non-citizen can be a co-executor, if the other co-executor is a citizen. Rules also vary from state to state regarding being paid for your time. Most states permit a percentage of the size of the estate, which must be considered earned income and reported on tax returns.

Be very thorough and careful in documenting every decision made as the executor to protect yourself from any future challenges. This is one job where trying to do it on your own could have long-term effects on your relationship with the family and financial liability, so take it seriously. If it’s too much, an estate planning attorney can help.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Dec. 22, 2021) “How to Prepare to Be an Executor of an Estate”

How Should I Plan to Sell My Business?

For many business owners, between 70% and 80% of their wealth is tied up in their business. Research also shows that just 20% to 30% of businesses that go to market actually sell. That leaves 80% of business owners with limited options to monetize the value of their business and wealth for future financial security.

The Tampa Bay Business Journal’s recent article entitled “Selling a family business: Plan to maximize value and preserve wealth” explains that there are several factors facing Boomer business owners, as they consider selling their businesses:

  • They may be worried about forfeiting their income stream.
  • They may feel trapped because the business funds a certain lifestyle.
  • They could be worried about what they’ll do in the next chapter of life after leaving.
  • They may not have a sense of urgency or plan for an unexpected life event, such as an illness or death; and
  • They could be misinformed about options for a strategic exit to capitalize on the business’ value.

It’s critical to start business exit planning now.

It’s not uncommon that when businesses are passed on from one generation to the next, family conflicts can occur. With about three-quarters (70%) of family businesses failing after being passed to the next generation, there’s good reason to reconsider leaving your business to your children in the traditional sense.

More business owner children either can’t afford to buy the family business or would prefer to not be saddled with it. In fact, UBS Global Wealth Management found that 82% of the next generation would prefer the money from the sale of the business. Half of family business owners also don’t know their exit options and have no transition team or transition plan.

About half of all exits from a family business aren’t voluntary. The five Ds — death, disabilities, divorce, distress, and disagreements — can derail a sound business exit strategy. Instead of holding on too long and focusing on just income generation, business owners should look at growing the enterprise value of the business, thus making it more attractive and transferrable to new ownership.

Business owners should have secure contracts, an experienced management team and a sound succession plan to keep the business operating and demonstrate its market value.

You should aim to exit your business when it’s at peak enterprise value and while you have control to depart on your terms.

Simply gifting a family business to the next generation may not be the right decision. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about other options to consider.

Reference: Tampa Bay Business Journal (Nov. 29, 2021) “Selling a family business: Plan to maximize value and preserve wealth”

How Does a Charitable Trust Help with Estate Planning?

Simply put, a charitable trust holds assets and distributes assets to charitable organizations. The person who creates the trust, the grantor, decides how the trust will manage and invest assets, as well as how and when donations are made, as described in the article “How a Charitable Trust Works” from yahoo! finance. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you create a charitable trust to achieve your estate planning goals and create tax-savings opportunities.

Any trust is a legal entity, legally separate from you, even if you are the grantor and a trustee. The trust owns its assets, pays taxes and requires management. The charitable trust is created with the specific goal of charitable giving, during and after your lifetime. Many people use charitable trusts to create ongoing gifts, since this type of trust grows and continues to make donations over extended periods of time.

Sometimes charitable trusts are used to manage real estate or other types of property. Let’s say you have a home you’d like to see used as a community resource after you die. A charitable trust would be set up and the home placed in it. Upon your death, the home would transfer to the charitable organization you’ve named in the trust. The terms of the trust will direct how the home is to be used. Bear in mind while this is possible, most charities prefer to receive cash or stock assets, rather than real estate.

The IRS defines a charitable trust as a non-exempt trust, where all of the unexpired interests are dedicated to one or more charitable purposes, and for which a charitable contribution deduction is allowed under a specific section of the Internal Revenue Code. The charitable trust is treated like a private foundation, unless it meets the requirements for one of the exclusions making it a public charity.

There are two main kinds of charitable trusts. One is a Charitable Remainder Trust, used mostly to make distributions to the grantor or other beneficiaries. After distributions are made, any remaining funds are donated to charity. The CRT may distribute its principal, income, or both. You could also set up a CRT to invest and manage money and distribute only earnings from the investments. A CRT can also be set up to distribute all holdings over time, eventually emptying all accounts. The CRT is typically used to distribute proceeds of investments to named beneficiaries, then distribute its principal to charity after a certain number of years.

The Charitable Lead Trust (CLT) distributes assets to charity for a defined amount of time, and at the end of the term, any remaining assets are distributed to beneficiaries. The grantor may be included as one of the trust’s beneficiaries, known as a “Reversionary Trust.”

All Charitable Trusts are irrevocable, so assets may not be taken back by the grantor. To qualify, the trust may only donate to charities recognized by the IRS.

An estate planning attorney will know how to structure the charitable trust to maximize its tax-savings potential. Depending upon how it is structured, a CT can also impact capital gains taxes.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 16, 2021) “How a Charitable Trust Works”

What are the Negatives of Investing in Cryptocurrency?

When Matthew Mellon died suddenly in 2018, he was worth almost $200 million. He owned nine sports cars, a watch worth more than most American’s annual income and left one daughter the priceless collection of Mellon family silver. However, he also left an estate mess for heirs, according to a recent article “How a cryptocurrency fortune crippled a deceased billionaire’s estate” from the daily dot.

Aside from the sports cars, watch and the family silver, most of Mellon’s assets, estimated at more than $193 million, were in a cryptocurrency known as XRP, managed by the company Ripple. One court document noted the cryptocurrency made up 97% of the entire estate. Mellon’s estate disaster was unlike most situations when assets can’t be accounted for. His multi-million cryptocurrency assets were secured by digital keys in a digital wallet. No one in the family knew where any of this was.

The online community and attorneys assumed the XRP assets were lost forever. However, there were a few twists to the story.

Matthew Mellon was a member of two powerful banking families, the Mellons and the Drexels. He reportedly inherited $25 million as a young man and served as chair of the New York Republican Party Finance Committee, to which he’d made a six-figure donation. He was married to Tamara Mellon, founder of the Jimmy Choo shoe brand. The marriage was one of two, both ending in divorce.

His investment in cryptocurrency began with a $2 million investment in XRP in late 2017, after testing the cryptocurrency concept with Bitcoin. He became a global “ambassador” for XRP. According to Forbes, at one point his investment was worth nearly $1 billion, but the rally ended, and the currency depreciated rapidly during 2018.

The family was doubtful about his involvement in XRP because Mellon struggled with substance abuse. The day he died of a heart attack, was the day he was scheduled to check into a drug rehabilitation facility to treat an OxyContin addition.

Left behind after his death were two ex-wives, three young children and an outdated will. There was no mention of the estimated $193 million in XRP. The keys to the cryptocurrency were allegedly kept on devices under other people’s names in locations across the country. This secrecy led estate lawyers scrambling to gain control of his XRP, which fluctuated up and down by as much as 30% in the weeks after his death. Every day they did not have the ability to sell, increased the risk of not being able to liquidate his biggest asset.

Based on his relationship with Ripple, his attorneys were able to get in contact with the right people at the company and gain access to his XRP. However, this does not happen for regular people, no matter how much the cryptocurrency is worth.

Gaining access to the digital currency was just the start. Mellon had an agreement with Ripple that he could only sell off a small amount of XRP daily. The attorneys were able to negotiate a slightly higher number but could not move fast enough to generate the cash needed to pay off the estate’s debts. This made sense for Ripple—a big sell-off would have an extremely negative impact on XRP’s value, just as wide-scale dumping of a stock would cut its value.

Mellon was also years behind on income tax returns, and the IRS wanted a piece of his multi-million dollar estate. In addition, two dozen entities, mostly private individuals, claimed he owed them money, ranging from a few hundred to nearly six million. There was a posthumous sexual harassment claim filed against him by a housekeeper. The estate paid $60 million in federal estate tax, and debts were settled in January 2021, almost three years after his death because of the inability to sell the cryptocurrency.

Most people don’t lead such a complicated personal or financial life. However, in this case, an updated will would have spared the family all the drama and stress of a high-stakes estate disaster. Proper estate planning could have protected the estate from a big tax bite and kept the Mellon’s family business private.

Reference: daily dot (Dec. 23, 2021) “How a cryptocurrency fortune crippled a deceased billionaire’s estate”

Does My State Have an Inheritance Tax?

Real Simple’s recent article entitled “Here’s Which States Collect Zero Estate or Inheritance Taxes” explains that inheritance taxes are levies paid by the living beneficiary who gets the inheritance. And both federal and state governments can apply estate taxes, which are levied against the assets that are bequeathed.

Just five states apply an inheritance tax: New Jersey, Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. There are 12 states that have an estate tax: Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii and the District of Columbia. Maryland collects both. As a result, there are 32 states that don’t collect death-related taxes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

To better estimate and project the possible outcomes, you should consider an intergenerational planning meeting. There are some families that like the transparency of establishing a trust. This can minimize fighting and avoid probate. Trusts are also taxed differently than individuals. There’s more certainty about who will bear the costs.

There are families that gift assets, while an elderly or chronically ill person is still alive. These gifts can be subject to taxation, but there are exceptions for tuition and medical expenses. Gifts to children may also be excluded.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to transferring valuable or sentimental assets. You can list the most important people and causes in your life. If that list has people in other states, it will be even more important to prepare everyone for their role and responsibilities with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

If inheritance tax sounds intimidating, start small with updating the beneficiary forms on your bank accounts and employer-led retirement accounts. Organize documents, such as insurance information and house titles and deeds. Make them secure but accessible to those who might need them, if you’re unavailable.

Even if you’re socially distancing, many estate planning attorneys offer consultations via video conferencing. There’s no reason to delay another year to clarify your inheritance and estate plans.

Reference: Real Simple (Nov. 24, 2021) “Here’s Which States Collect Zero Estate or Inheritance Taxes”

How Do I Hire a Caregiver from an Agency?

Part One of AARP’s recent article entitled “How to Hire a Caregiver” explains that when you have a list of promising agencies, you should schedule a consultation.

It doesn’t matter if your family member is eligible for Medicare, Medicare’s Home Health Compare can be a terrific tool for finding and researching home health agencies in your area.

It provides detailed information on what services they provide and how patients rate them.

Working with an agency has its pros and cons. The pluses include the following:

  • Background checks. Caregivers must pass a background check.
  • Experienced caregivers. Agencies are likely to have a number of caregivers who cared for other seniors with the illness or condition affecting your loved one.
  • Backup care. If the primary aide is sick or doesn’t work out, an agency typically can quickly find a replacement.
  • Liability protection in the event that a caregiver is injured while at the home.
  • No paperwork. The agency takes a fee, pays the aide and does the payroll and taxes.

Here are some of the corresponding minuses of working with an agency:

  • Greater expense. You’ll pay more for an agency-provided caregiver.
  • Little choice. The agency chooses the worker, and he or she may not fit well with you or your family member.
  • Negotiation is limited, and individuals are generally more flexible about duties, hours and overtime than agencies.
  • There are agencies that don’t permit a part-time schedule.

In addition, you can contact an experienced elder law attorney and ask for recommendations.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 27, 2021) “How to Hire a Caregiver”