Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Save Your Family Stress and Plan Your Funeral

Making your way through the process of the death of a family member is an extremely personal journey, as well as a very big business that can put a financial strain on the surviving family.

Rate.com’s recent article entitled “Plan Your Own Funeral, Cheaply, and Leave Behind a Happier Family”  notes that on an individual basis, it can be a significant cost for a family dealing with grief. The National Funeral Directors Association found that the median cost for a traditional funeral, with a basic casket that also includes a vault (the casket liner most cemeteries require) can cost more than $9,000. With the cost of a (single) plot and the services of the cemetery to take care of the burial and ongoing maintenance and other expenses,  it can total more than $15,000.

Instead, if you opt for cremation and a simple service, it will run only $2,000 or less. That would save your estate or your family $13,000. Think of the amount of legacy that can grow from your last wishes.

If you want to research it further, it can be difficult. Without your directions, your grieving family is an easy mark for a death care industry that’s run for profit. Even with federal disclosure rules, most states make it impossible to easily comparison shop among funeral service providers, and online price lists aren’t required. However, you can do the legwork to make it easier on your family, when you pass.

Funeral homes also aren’t usually forthright about costs that are required rather than optional. The median embalming cost is $750.However, there’s no regulation requiring embalming. Likewise, a body need not be placed in a casket for cremation. The median cost for a cremation casket is $1,200 but an alternative “container” might cost less than $200.

The best thing you can do for your family is to write it down your wishes and plans and make it immediately discoverable.

It can be a great relief to tell your family everything you want (and don’t want). However, if that’s not feasible with your family dynamics, be certain that you detail of all your wishes in writing. You should also make sure that the document can be easily located by your executor.

Here’s a simple option: Write everything out, place your instructions in a sealed envelope and let your children and the executor know the location of the letter.

This elementary step can be the start to helping their decision-making when you pass away, and potentially provide some extra money to help them reach their goals.

Reference: rate.com (June 21, 2020) “Plan Your Own Funeral, Cheaply, and Leave Behind a Happier Family”

Why Did Spain’s King Renounce His Inheritance from His Father?

In addition to saying no to his father’s money, King Felipe VI of Spain has also renounced his right to any shares, investments, or financial vehicles that “may be inconsistent with the law or the standards of honesty and integrity which govern his institutional and private activities and should inform the activities of the crown,” according to a statement from the royal household.

CNN’s article entitled “Spain’s King Felipe VI renounces his inheritance from his father” explains that Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 amid scandal. Felipe pledged to improve transparency around the royal family, with the country becoming more frustrated by its expense to the public during a financial crisis.

The statement is an attempt by Felipe to distance himself, and the institution, from media reports that the royal family had benefited from two financial funds linked to Juan Carlos. The former monarch will also no longer receive an annual grant payment from the royal family budget.

King Juan Carlos ended his 39-year reign under suspicious circumstances. There were accusations of corruption and excess plaguing the royal family. That was a great fall from when Spaniards held him in high regard for leading the country into democracy, after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.

However, Juan Carlos’ popularity took a blow in 2012 over a controversial elephant-hunting trip to Africa, while the nation was in the middle of a deep economic crisis. He resigned from public life in June 2019, as several scandals were made public.

Some Spaniards have called for the monarchy to be scrapped for the establishment of a republic. Resentment in Spain has grown over the cost of the royal family to the public, despite the monarchy’s relatively austere reputation compared with other European royals.

Of the 10 main royal families in Europe, nine still get public funding for carrying out their duties. The one exception is the Princely House of Liechtenstein, which doesn’t get any taxpayer money to cover its expenses.

Spain’s royal family has the third-smallest budget of the group.

Taxpayers pay the royal family $9 million a year—much less than the $107 million given to the British monarchy or the $54 million spent on the royal family in Monaco.

Reference: CNN (March 17, 2020) “Spain’s King Felipe VI renounces his inheritance from his father”

Can Bad Thoughts Bring on Dementia?

There is recent research that has shown a link between repeated patterns of repetitive negative thinking (RNT) and signs of dementia. This study suggests a link between the key signs of dementia, the buildup of proteins in the brain and cognitive decline, and RNT.

Medical News Today reported in its recent article entitled “Link between dementia and repetitive negative thinking identified” that this study was published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia. The study set forth the foundation for future research to consider how the link may function, and if psychological therapies that treat RNT can inhibit Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The CDC explains that dementia is a term that represents a variety of diseases characterized by cognitive decline, which includes trouble remembering, thinking or making decisions that adversely affect a person’s everyday life.

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. This is a degenerative disease, which means it worsens over time. It’s not yet known exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease. The CDC says that there are likely several factors involved. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s.

Prior research has suggested that psychological factors, like depression and anxiety, may also have a connection to Alzheimer’s. This has led researchers to develop the concept of cognitive debt as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, which they believe is acquired by RNT. A large part of RNT are processes of rumination — repeatedly thinking about the past — and worry, being concerned about the future.

The research examined the participants’ RNT, depression, anxiety and cognitive decline levels for up to four years. They also measured the levels of tau and amyloid proteins in the brains of 113 of the participants. Scientists think that the buildup of these structures is key to the development of Alzheimer’s.

The authors of the new research discovered that the higher a person’s RNT, the faster their cognitive decline. They also found these people were more likely to have significant deposits of tau and amyloid proteins. However, although the research found a link between depression and anxiety and cognitive decline, they did not find a connection between depression and anxiety and the buildup of tau and amyloid proteins.

According to the lead author of the study Dr. Natalie Marchant of University College, London, United Kingdom, “[d]epression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.

“Taken alongside other studies that link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one’s risk of dementia.

“We hope that our findings could be used to develop strategies to lower people’s risk of dementia, by helping them to reduce their negative thinking patterns.”

The study’s authors say that it’s probable that RNT contributes to Alzheimer’s in some way, possibly elevating an individual’s stress levels. However, they couldn’t discount the possibility that early signs of Alzheimer’s could lead to RNT.

Reference:  Medical News Today (June 11, 2020) “Link between dementia and repetitive negative thinking identified”

Should Nursing Homes Plan for Future Pandemics?

Roughly 6,000 nursing home residents have died during the pandemic in New York State.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities for one of the country’s most high-risk populations: our senior citizens.

Spectrum News reports in the article “Nursing Homes Could Be Required to Have Pandemic Plan” reports that a proposed bill in that state would require nursing homes to have plans for future pandemics, make those plans readily available on websites, provide regular updates on the status of patients and establish protection plans for staff and residents.

In addition, communication via videoconferencing must be made available for residents.

The bill would also mandate that a pandemic plan preserve a resident’s place in a nursing home after hospitalization is through. It would also include provisions for the facilities to have a minimum two-month supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The New York State Department of Health will be required to audit facilities annually for compliance.

“The nature of COVID19 exposed a tragic vulnerability among one of our most high-risk populations: our elderly,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat. “The rapid spread of the virus in nursing homes exposed a fatal flaw in pandemic planning and it is clear that more has to be done to protect nursing home residents and its healthcare workers.”

New York’s response to nursing homes during the crisis has come under some scrutiny. Part of that has been a March 25 order that required the facilities to take in COVID-positive patients.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has partially reversed that directive, by banning hospitals from discharging people to nursing homes who are still positive for the virus.

Cuomo has also placed some of the blame on the CDC guidelines for permitting nursing homes to take COVID residents. However, he didn’t raise the issue in a recent meeting with President Trump.

Twice weekly testing of nursing home and adult care facility staff is now underway. The testing capacity and supply has increased in New York over the past month.

The bill must still be considered by Governor Cuomo for approval.

Reference: Spectrum News (May 28, 2020) “Nursing Homes Could Be Required to Have Pandemic Plan”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Elder Care, Caregiving, Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen DuRoss Ford passed away on May 9.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some States are Lowering Taxes to Entice Retires to Relocate

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

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

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

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

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

State – Net Migration

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

Source: Smart Asset analysis of 2017 census data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must Seniors at Care Facilities Sign over Stimulus Checks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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