Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Aging Parents and Blended Families Create Estate Planning Challenges

Law school teaches about estate planning and inheritance, but experience teaches about family dynamics, especially when it comes to blended families with aging parents and step siblings. Not recognizing the realities of stepsibling relationships can put an estate plan at risk, advises the article “Could Your Aging Parents’ Estate Plan Create A Nightmare For Step-Siblings?” from Forbes. The estate plan has to be designed with realistic family dynamics in mind.

Trouble often begins when one parent loses the ability to make decisions. That’s when trusts are reviewed for language addressing what should happen, if one of the trustees becomes incapacitated. This also occurs in powers of attorney, health care directives and wills. If the elderly person has been married more than once and there are step siblings, it’s important to have candid discussions. Putting all of the adult children into the mix because the parents want them to have equal involvement could be a recipe for disaster.

Here’s an example: a father develops dementia at age 86 and can no longer care for himself. His younger wife has become abusive and neglectful, so much so that she has to be removed from the home. The father has two children from a prior marriage and the wife has one from a first marriage. The step siblings have only met a few times, and do not know each other. The father’s trust listed all three children as successors, and the same for the healthcare directive. When the wife is removed from the home, the battle begins.

The same thing can occur with a nuclear family but is more likely to occur with blended families. Here are some steps adult children can take to protect the whole family:

While parents are still competent, ask who they would want to take over, if they became disabled and cannot manage their finances. If it’s multiple children and they don’t get along, address the issue and create the necessary documents with an estate planning attorney.

Plan for the possibility that one or both parents may lose the ability to make decisions about money and health in the future.

If possible, review all the legal documents, so you have a complete understanding of what is going to happen in the case of incapacity or death. What are the directions in the trust, and who are the successor trustees? Who will have to take on these tasks, and how will they be accomplished?

If there are any questions, a family meeting with the estate planning attorney is in order. Most experienced estate planning attorneys have seen just about every situation you can imagine and many that you can’t. They should be able to give your family guidance, even connecting you with a social worker who has experience in blended families, if the problems seem unresolvable.

Reference: Forbes (June 28, 2021) “Could Your Aging Parents’ Estate Plan Create A Nightmare For Step-Siblings?”

What Happens to My Home If I Go to a Nursing Home?

An aging parent who does not have any other assets and believes she would end up on Medicaid sooner rather than later, may not know what would happen to the house that is in both her name and the name of her son.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “What happens to my house if I go into a nursing home?” says that timing is everything, and the answer may depend on when and how the son obtained his interest in the parent’s house.

If the parent owned the house and put her son’s name on the deed along with hers, the parent made a gift of an interest in the house to her son.

Medicaid has a five-year look back period when a senior applies for Medicaid.

If an applicant made any gifts during this look back period, a penalty period will apply. During that time, an applicant isn’t eligible for Medicaid. However, if the gift was made prior to the five-year period, the penalty period is inapplicable.

If the son bought the interest in the parent’s house, the Medicaid lookback rules don’t apply.

However, in any event, Medicaid requires an applicant to “spend down” her assets to $2,000 (in most states, but the amount may vary) to qualify for the program.

A home the parent or a spouse or disabled child are living in will be considered exempt. However, it won’t be exempt if the parent, spouse, or disabled child, aren’t living in it and have no expectation of returning to it.

If the parent will not be living in or returning to her home, the parent will need to sell her interest in the home before she qualifies for Medicaid.

Alternatively, the parent and her son will have to sell the home, and she will have to use her share of the proceeds before she can qualify for Medicaid.

In addition, if the son is also providing a level of care for the parent for a period of at least two years, the parent has allowed you to stay in her home and not have to relocate to a nursing facility sooner. This exception has a complex set of rules.

Medicaid is complicated and the above information is only general in nature. Medicaid rules sometimes change and can even be applied differently based on where you live. You should consult with an estate planning or elder law attorney to make certain you take the steps that will be most beneficial to your specific set of circumstances.

Reference: nj.com (June 4, 2021) “What happens to my house if I go into a nursing home?”

Should I Stay Fit after 50?

Being physically fit after 50 will help improve your health as you age, but it can also benefit your body, mind and wallet in ways you might not realize. Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit in Retirement” says that maintaining muscle health can also help improve energy levels, decrease the risk of fractures and speed up recovery from illnesses.

Her are some big potential benefits of staying in shape in your 50s (and well beyond that) you might not have considered. But visit your doctor for a checkup before beginning a fitness program and work your way into any exercise routine to avoid injuries.

  1. Thinking More Clearly. In addition to building muscles, exercise can help with brain function. Exercise can improve mood and sleep and decrease stress and anxiety. These can indirectly help with overall cognitive function.
  2. Spending Less On Medical Care. The average retiree household spends $6,800 a year on health care. However, with a regular exercise regimen, you can improve your health. That means you may be able to spend less time and money at the doctor’s office. The Mayo Clinic says regular exercise helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems, such as stroke, high blood pressure, depression and cancer.
  3. Save On Life Insurance. If you stay fit, you may save money on life insurance because underwriters generally base policy costs on your risk of death. Overweight seniors will pay higher rates but maintaining a healthy weight and strong vital signs could reduce your premiums.
  4. Feel Happier. There’s a strong link between physical fitness and happiness. In addition to boosting your energy, exercise can elevate your mood. Physical activity stimulates brain chemicals that can make you feel more relaxed and less anxious. You may also feel better about your appearance, which can raise your self-esteem.
  5. Decrease Muscle And Bone Mass Loss. Regular strength training can help women to reduce the loss of bone and muscle mass that happens as they get older. This condition is more pronounced in women than men, since menopause accelerates this decline. Weight-based exercises are intended to thwart these conditions, which can impact a woman’s ability to perform daily activities.
  6. Keep Your Independence. According to the National Council on Aging, regular exercise can help older adults stay independent. Certain types of exercise, such as tai chi, can even reduce your risk of falls, which are the top cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors.
  7. Live longer. Aerobic fitness is a dynamic indicator of long-term mortality, and the more aerobic exercise you do, the greater the benefit. Three hours a week of regular exercise may potentially extend life by as much as five years. However, not exercising creates a risk of premature death that is equal to or worse than cardiovascular disease, diabetes or smoking, according to a large study published in 2018 in JAMA Network Open.

Reference: Money Talks News (December 25, 2020) “7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit in Retirement”

Medicare Surprises Do Exist

CNBC’s recent article entitled “Here are 3 Medicare surprises that can cost you thousands every year” reports that about 62.6 million people—most of whom are age 65+— are enrolled in Medicare. Most pay no premium for Part A (hospital coverage) because they have at least a 10-year work history of paying into the system via payroll taxes.

As far as Part B (outpatient care) and Part D (prescription drug coverage), a senior may see some surprise premium costs, no matter if you stay with original Medicare (Parts A and B) or choose to get your benefits through an Advantage Plan (Part C).

  1. Higher premiums for higher income. About 7% (4.3 million) of Medicare enrollees pay more than the standard premiums for Parts B and D for income-related monthly adjustment amounts, or IRMAAs, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This starts at modified adjusted gross income of more than $88,000. It goes up at higher income thresholds. For example, a single taxpayer with income between $88,000 and $111,000 would pay an extra $59.40 per month for Part B on top of the standard premium of $148.50, or $207.90 total. Note that these IRMAAs don’t gently phase in within each income bracket. If you earn a dollar above the income thresholds, the surcharge applies in full force. Generally, these extra charges are calculated by your tax return from two years earlier. You can also request that the Social Security Administration reconsider the surcharges, if your income has dropped since that you filed that tax return.
  2. Your spouse’s income counts against you. The IRMAAs aren’t based on your own income. For example, if you have retired but your spouse is still working, and your joint tax return is a modified adjusted gross income of $176,000 or higher, you would be subject to IRMAAs.
  3. If you sign up late, you’ll pay a penalty. Sign up for Medicare during a seven-month window that starts three months before your 65th birthday month and ends three months after it. However, if you meet an exception — i.e., you or your spouse have qualifying group insurance at a company with 20 or more employees — you can put off enrolling. Workers at big employers often sign up for Part A and wait on Part B until they lose their other coverage. When this happens, they generally get eight months to enroll. Note that the rules are different for companies with fewer than 20 employees, whose workers must sign up when first eligible. For each full year that you should have been enrolled in Part B but were not, you could face paying 10% of the monthly Part B standard premium ($148.50 for 2021). The amount is added to your monthly premium for as long as you are enrolled in Medicare.

For Part D prescription drug coverage, the late-enrollment penalty is 1% of the monthly national base premium ($33.06 in 2021) for each full month that you should have had coverage but didn’t. This Part B penalty also lasts as long as you have drug coverage.

Reference: CNBC (June 21, 2021) “Here are 3 Medicare surprises that can cost you thousands every year”

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 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”

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”